Written by Maddalena Tomassini
Edited by Daniele Paletta
This week was marked by great and small victories, but also painful losses for our communities. In United States, we celebrated the historic ruling of the Supreme Court, that affirmed that the anti-discrimination federal law protects LGBTQ persons from being discriminated on their workplace. Another good news comes from India, where the Indian Psychiatric Society took a clear stance against “conversion therapy”.
At the same time, tragically, we lost Sarah Hegazi, an Egyptian queer activist who took her own life, three years after being jailed and tortured just for raising the rainbow flag at a concert, and having to flee her country. She’s not the only one our communities are mourning: activists in Argentina and South Africa have lost their lives, in what are being investigated as possible hate crimes.
Another cause of concern rises from a recent studio in New South Wales, Australia, according to which isolation has impacted heavily on the LGBTI community, especially for those forced to stay home in unaccepting families and friends.
The rights of trans persons are strikingly under attack: in the United States, the Department of Health and Human Services rolled back anti-discrimination protections for trans people that were provided under Obamacare. And in the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is reportedly considering to scrap plans that would make it easier for people to gain legal gender recognition: a step back in trans rights that around 35,000 letters sent by LGBTI activists and allies just showed we’re not willing to accept.
This is a brief selection of news showing how Covid-19 is affecting LGBTI communities worldwide. Share more stories at [email protected]
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In a historic moment, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected characteristics under Title VII of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 - which bans workplace discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion.
The 6-3 decision, written by U.S. Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, determines anti-LGBT discrimination is a form of sex discrimination. “An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex,” Gorsuch writes. “Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”
The decision was issued in three consolidated cases, regarding Aimee Stephens - a funeral home director who was fired after coming out as trans, Donald Zarda and Gerald Bostock, who lost their jobs as a skydiving instructor and child welfare services coordinator once their employers found out they were gay. Sadly, both Stephens and Zarda passed away before they could see the results of their struggle.
Victor Madrigal-Borloz, UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, called the ruling a “very significant step towards breaking the cycle of discrimination that often condemns lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender-diverse persons to social exclusion, and ultimately, to poverty”.
Human rights organisations worldwide praised the historic decision, calling it “a watershed moment in the history of [LGBTQ+] rights”. Nevertheless, many in our communitiese could still be at risk of facing discrimination in the workplace, as the law doesn’t include small businesses with less than 15 employees.
A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reports that 91 percent of US LGBT adolescents have experienced at least one instance of bias-based bullying.
According to current and former employees of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, the management would sometimes ask staff not to show LGBT content at the request of guests such as religious school groups.
In an open letter, over 350 US LGBTI and civil rights organisations called for “long-term transformational change” in the nation’s policing, including the defunding of police to reinvest s in communities.
The Rt. Rev. Deon Kevin Johnson has become the first openly gay Black man to be ordained bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri, in the United States.
We are sad to hear that Sarah Hegazi took her life in the aftermath of the torture and persecution she suffered in Egypt. Her legacy will remind us to live unapologetically and courageously in the face of injustice. #SarahHegazi pic.twitter.com/SQglPr06sl
— Pan Africa ILGA (@PanAfricaILGA) June 15, 2020
Sarah Hegazi, a queer activist who was detained and tortured in Egypt for raising the rainbow flag during a concert, took her own life last Saturday in Canada, where she had escaped due to threats to her safety. She was 30 years old.
Hegazi was among dozens arrested after attending in 2017 a concert of a Lebanese band, whose frontman is openly gay. She was then detained for three months in a woman prison, where she was subjected to torture and solitary confinement. After being released on bail, Hegazi showed signs of severe depression and suffered from a “very intense, serious case” of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Before her death, Hegazi left a note: “To my siblings, I tried to survive and I failed. Forgive me. To my friends, experiences have been cruel and I’m too weak to resist. Forgive me. To the world, you have been extremely cruel, but I forgive.”
Many among LGBTI communities now mourn her. “Sarah’s passing is a sobering reminder that the trauma resulting from entrenched state-sponsored violence on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is deadly, and does not end when someone relocates to safety,” said Rainbow Railroad’s Executive Director Kimahli Powell. “To all of her friends and chosen family everywhere in the world, we send our deepest condolences and sympathy in this time of loss. We take solace in knowing that Sarah’s life has been, and will continue to be, an inspiration to others”.
“Rest, just rest,” wrote Human Rights Watch’s Rasha Younes. “Spared from this relentless violence, this state-powered lethal patriarchy. In rage, in grief, in exhaustion, we resist.”
Gay and bisexual men in Ghana are being targeted on Grindr by catfishing conmen who “steal, abuse and blackmail” them, an African LGBTI group has warned.
Our communities in South Africa and beyond are mourning Kirvan Fortuin, a queer activist, dancer and choreographer. According to reports, Fortuin was stabbed to death following an altercation, in what may have been a hate crime.
Yves Yomb, a human rights activist from Cameroon and spokesperson of Africagay against AIDS, died last Saturday: he was a founding member of Alternative Cameroun, one of the first human rights organizations in Western and Central Africa to advocate for tolerance and social inclusion of our communities.
Liz Truss is getting ready to tell Boris Johnson that women want a rollback of trans rights. Please, all women who believe in trans rights, it's time to say: #NotInMyName to @BorisJohnson @10DowningStreet and email him: https://t.co/oYBJtncS1Yhttps://t.co/Xs30qnjB3J
— Mermaids (@Mermaids_Gender) June 15, 2020
Around 35,000 letters have been sent in a little more than a day, asking for UK prime minister Boris Johnson not to scrap plans that would allow trans people to change their birth certificates without a medical diagnosis. The campaign was initiated by LGBTI advocacy groups as a media report by the Sunday Times revealed that Johnson would be not only seeking to scrap the reform of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) drafted by Theresa May’s administration, but also to introduce ways to stop trans women who haven’t had the gender affirmation surgery from using female-only spaces. The GRA review was launched in 2018, and 70% of respondents had supported improving the lives of trans people - a clear public stance that, according to the latest reports, has been ignored.
As ILGA World’s Trans Legal Mapping Report points out, the current 2004 law has a series of abusive preconditions for trans people to see their gender legally recognised - including having lived in their “acquired gender” (sic) for two years and get a diagnosis of gender dysphoria. Behind banning trans women from female-only spaces, there appears to be the unsubstantiated fear that this would allow predatory men to enter those spaces while posing as women. An argument that the advocacy group Mermaids promptly rejected, pointing out that many countries already allow self-identification: “None of these countries have reported a rise in attacks on women in single-sex spaces. None seem to have seen a trend towards men sneaking into changing rooms and toilets pretending to be trans. After all, abusive men don’t need to go through such an absurd process to attack women”.
“A loss to trans youth is a loss for all,” explains a letter by Gendered Intelligence. “Excluding trans women from women's spaces would be a huge step in the wrong direction, and a monumental loss to the UK's proud human rights record.” A similar appeal to write to Johnson was raised from Mermaids, in particular calling on women who support trans rights to write to Johnson and say #NotInMyName.
Following an appeal from LGBT Foundation, many cis women stood to support trans and non-binary people. One said, “I am sickened that my sexuality and cis-genderedness are being used as a part of this divisive narrative. I stand with trans and non-binary people. Being the person you know you are should not have to be a fight.”
The Organisation Intersex International Europe launched the Good Practice Map 2019, highlighting 8 examples to protect intersex human rights around resolution, data collection, research, legal protection, campaigning, awareness-raising, employment, and funding by national governments,municipalities and the European Commission.
In the Netherlands, the health ministry reported in a study that at least 15 organisations and individuals that “conversion therapy” in the country during workshops and holiday camps. A second study, due out in the next few months, will include recommendations on actions to tackle the issue.
The Romanian Senate approved a bill that forbids activities in schools and university “ that meant to promote the ‘gender identity theory’”. At least 80 CSOs in in the country have asked the President not to sign the law.
A 28-year-old has become the first gay man to donate blood in Northern Ireland since its discriminatory restrictions were relaxed, and the deferral period was reduced from 12 months to three.
Indian Psychiatric Society LGBT Mental Health Task Force statement against Conversion Therapy, dated June 11, 2020. @LGBTQueerala @netshrink @mariwalahealth @chennaipride pic.twitter.com/Ku0Gizvq5A
— SAATHII (@SAATHII) June 11, 2020
The Indian Psychiatric Society has taken a clear stance against ‘conversion therapy’, claiming it “totally disapproves of any such treatments and urges that such therapies must cease forthwith”.
In a statement, India’s apex professional body of psychiatrists affirms: “All forms of ‘treatment/therapy’ (including individual psychotherapies, behaviour therapies like aversive conditioning etc...) to reverse sexual orientation are based on a premise that is erroneous: that such orientations are diseases. Moreover there is no scientific evidence at all that attempts to convert a person’s orientation succeed in any manner.” The position echoes an important decision that the Indian Psychiatric Society took in 2018, when it categorically stated that “homosexuality is not a disease and must not be regarded as such”.
The position was one of the many that ILGA World tracked in its Curbing Deception - A world survey on legal regulation of so-called “conversion therapies” report, released in February 2020.
The Asia Pacific Transgender Network is launching the Amplifying Trans Advocacy Fellowship, an online course that will train trans and gender diverse human rights defenders from Asia and the Pacific to utilise international human rights mechanisms to amplify their work around trans rights.
In Nepal, the country’s second Pride Parade took place last Saturday online, “the first of its kind: First Virtual Pride Parade of Nepal”.
The Chinese LGBTI community is quietly gaining acceptance in major cities, as more than 100 people took part in Shanghai's eighth annual Pride Run to raise visibility.
Our communities in the north-east of Argentina are mourning the death of Roberto Monje, a gay activist who was murdered in his home in Reconquista.
Roberto Monje, 40, had been a member for some years of VOX, an NGO working in the province of Santa Fe for the civil and social rights of people of diverse sexual orientations. His death was a hard blow for the whole community, who have faced a number of murders over the years: Ana Britez, a travesti sex worker, had faced police persecution and ended up murdered in 2000; in 2007, Professor Ives Medina was stabbed to death in his own home, and the topic of his sexual orientation kept being brought up violently on media reports around the investigation.
The investigation on Monje’s death has brought police to arrest a 19-year-old, who was identified by security cameras and a photo on social networks. According to the prosecutor Alejandro Rodriguez, there is still doubt over the grounds of his murder. “Roberto was a very private person. As a consequence, we can’t be sure of whether this was a robbery, a homicide or a fight,” he said at a press conference. But for Eliana Ibarra, a member of the Justice for Vanessa Zabala Front, there aren’t many doubts: “Because of the viciousness and the way it was carried out, we consider it a hate crime. Anyway, we are waiting for more information,” she told Agencia Presentes.
The rise of violence keeps affecting our communities across the region. The deaths of Brandy Carolina Brown and Ariadna Barrios Ojeda, two trans women stabbed to death in Barranquilla and Santa Marta raised concerns over the increasing number of attacks against LGBTI persons in the Caribbean region of Colombia.
With a historic breakthrough in Haiti, trans people will now be able to change their legal identity documents.
In Mexico, the main building of the Congress of Coahuila will light in the rainbow colours until the end of the month.
An Ecuadorian trans woman deprived of her liberty in Argentina, who reportedly showed symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of tuberculosis - a very common disease in Buenos Aires prisons - has been neglected and dismissed as having psychological problems.
Concrete evidence that LGBTQI people face unique issues of domestic and family violence in self-isolation, and face an array of mental health challenges as a result.https://t.co/VT2YomgwAs
— Star Observer (@star_observer) June 14, 2020
The New South Wales Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (GLRL) has released a new survey, highlighting how COVID-19 and social distancing affected the Australian LGBTI community, especially concerning issues of domestic and family violence in self-isolation.
“We asked questions around mental health and wellbeing before COVID, during, and their adjustment to it after. There was quite a marked difference in mental health before and after,” Co-Convenor for the GLRL Jack Whitney told Star Observer. “People noted that they wanted better leadership for COVID, and wanted queer instructions and collaboration with different governments in order to show more compassion for vulnerable communities“.
The survey included gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, gender diverse and queer respondents, and covered a universal age bracket to ensure accurate results. The findings raised some concerns, as only eight percent of respondents described their mental health “excellent” or “very good” during COVID-19 – in opposition to 40 percent before the pandemic. According to the study, this was partly due to the obligation to isolate with unaccepting family members or friends, and the impact that it had on existing relationships and social networks.
French Polynesia’s LGBTI association Cousins Cousines de Tahiti has announced it will file a complaint against a woman who published a widely shared video on Facebook in which she attacks a municipal candidate with homophobic insults.
Over 70 medical professionals have already signed a declaration launched by human rights advocates in Australia, seeking to replace the current ban on blood donations with individual risk assessments.
The past week has been particularly difficult for the trans community in the United States. As the Department of Health rolled back protections against discrimination in healthcare that were guaranteed under Obama Care, the community has suffered new losses. Selena Reyes-Hernandez, Dominique Fells and Riah Milton are the latest known victims of violence against trans people. According to Human Rights Campaign, at least 15 trans or gender non-conforming people have been murdered in 2020 in the country. That's why tens of thousands of people took the streets in various cities across the U.S. to protest and show solidarity with Black trans people.
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