The month in LGBTI news
18 December 2020 - 21 January 2021
Written and edited by Daniele Paletta
As we waved 2020 goodbye and welcomed the new year, our communities witnessed an intense time of change and historic victories, but also of worrying developments.
Argentina has become the largest country in Latin America to legalise abortion, with a law that explicitly refers to "women and people with other gender identities with gestational capacity”. After a tumultuous handover, incoming United States president Joe Biden signed a handful of executive orders - including one to enforce LGBTQ employment equality - and announced significant policy changes for our communities and beyond.
The European Court of Human Rights found that Croatia and Romania failed our communities in their response to a lesbophobic hate crime, and for lacking a clear legal gender recognition framework respectively. In Australia, a new research into public attitudes has shown “overwhelm support” towards trans equality.
And yet, we know we must remain vigilant, as rollbacks may often become a reality very easily: a research has shown how the misuse of Covid-19 response provisions have worsened insecurity for our communities in Uganda. In Malaysia, a government official claimed that criminalising provisions towards our communities should be made harsher, and that “all state religious agencies and enforcers have been instructed to take action against those who do not behave accordingly”.
Read this week's news from...
Latin America and the Caribbean
#EsLey: Argentina legalises abortion
Argentina has become the largest Latin American country to legalise abortion. As 2020 was coming to an end, the country’s Senate approved the historic law change by 38 votes in favour to 29 against, with one abstention.
The bill, which legalises terminations in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, was approved by Argentina’s lower house in December 2020, after being put to congress by the country’s president, Alberto Fernández.
The law explicitly refers to "women and people with other gender identities with gestational capacity", thus including also trans men, transmasculine persons and non-binary people who were assigned female at birth.
Pro-choice activists are hoping that the passing of the law in Argentina will inspire other countries in the region to follow suit. Since then, the debate around abortion has already moved forward in Chile, where Congress has started discussing a bill that was first introduced two years ago. The proposal would seek to decriminalise the termination of pregnancy up to 14 weeks.
More news from Latin America and the Caribbean
Human rights defenders across the region are mourning trans activist Laura Weinstein, who passed away in Colombia.
A report has cast a light on the situation of our communities in Guadeloupe, as civil society organisation Voix-Arc-en-ciel reported receiving 382 requests for support over just one year.
Five human rights defenders and HIV/AIDS humanitarian workers were detained in Venezuela, as over a hundred civil society organisation is demanding their release.
North America and the Caribbean
United States: President Joe Biden signs 17 executive orders, including to enforce LGBTQ employment equality
On his first day in office, incoming United States president Joe Biden signed an executive order directing federal agencies to protect LGBTQ people under all federal sex discrimination laws.
According to the White House website, the Order “builds on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County (2020) and ensures that the federal government interprets Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as prohibiting workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
“Biden’s Executive Order is the most substantive, wide-ranging executive order concerning sexual orientation and gender identity ever issued by a United States president,” commented Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David. “By fully implementing the Supreme Court’s historic ruling in Bostock, the federal government will enforce federal law to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, health care, housing, and education, and other key areas of life. “
The Executive Order was only one of 17 signed by the incoming president during his first day in office, including declarations re-joining the Paris climate agreement, overturning the ban on travel from a handful of Muslim-majority countries, and strengthening the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Other substantive changes in policies have been announced, too: Antony Blinken, Biden's pick to lead the State Department, said that he plans to swiftly appoint an LGBTI envoy, and allow embassies to fly the Pride flag, while Dr. Rachel Levine has been selected for the role of assistant health secretary, becoming the first out trans official to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
More news from North America and the Caribbean
A new bill was introduced in California, United States to restrict doctors from performing non-consensual surgeries on intersex infants.
Human rights defenders in Puerto Rico are calling on authorities to address a wave of transphobic and homophobic hate crimes, after two members of our communities were reported killed in just a few days.
In Canada, a Toronto Catholic school board removed the link to an LGBT support phone line from its website, describing it as “inappropriate material”. The decision sparked outrage in the community, and the link was later reinstated.
In the United States, the House of Representatives has approved gender-neutral language in the official House rules, and established a permanent Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
Europe and Central Asia
LGBTI rights groups welcome judgements finding Croatia and Romania in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights
Over just five days, the European Court of Human Rights issued two important judgements affecting our communities, as it found Croatia and Romania in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Ruling on the Sabalic v Croatia case, the Court found that the response of Croatian authorities to a hate crime against a lesbian woman was “particularly destructive of fundamental human rights”. The woman had been hospitalised after being violently attacked and threatened by a man outside a nightclub, and yet he was only convicted of minor-offence proceedings and given a fine.
The Court found that “such a response (…) is not capable of demonstrating the State’s Convention commitment to ensuring that homophobic ill-treatment does not remain ignored by the relevant authorities”, and that it could rather be considered “as a response that fosters a sense of impunity for the acts of violent hate crime.”
In a separate ruling, the European Court of Human Rights also found Romania in violation of the European Convention, as the country lacked a clear and foreseeable legal framework for the legal gender recognition.
The case was brought by two applicants whose requests to see their gender legally recognised were repeatedly rejected, as national courts continued requiring proof that they had undergone gender-affirmation surgery.
The European Court of Human Rights observed that such unreasonable requirements had presented both applicants with an impossible dilemma: either they were forced to undergo the surgery, contrary to their right to respect for their physical integrity, or they had to forego recognition of their gender identity.
The decision was welcomed by activists: “We call upon the Romanian state to respect its obligations,” said TGEU Board member Antonella Lerca, “and to immediately introduce a legal gender recognition procedure that is quick, transparent, and accessible and based on self-determination.”
More news from Europe and Central Asia
In a historic day for our communities in Switzerland, the country’s parliament passed marriage equality and legal gender recognition based on self-determination. If the newly-passed laws are not challenged with a referendum in the upcoming months, the Swiss Federal Council will announce a date for them to come into force.
In Latvia, Parliament passed a draft law to restrict the definition of family in the Constitution, and effectively block same-sex partnerships and same-sex families.
In Iceland, the National Registry has opened the possibility for people to register their gender as non-binary in official documents.
Human rights organisations have vowed to challenge a recent decision by the Consumer Protection Authority in Hungary, which claimed that a lack of warning about “patterns of behavior deviating from traditional gender roles” in a book violates the rights and interests of consumers.
The only youth gender identity clinic in England faced criticism from the country's health regulator, as patients are "at risk of self-harm" over the long waiting lists to access specialist care. In December 2020, the High Court ruled to stopped doctors from prescribing puberty blockers to under-16s without a judge's approval, but the NHS Trust has just been granted permission to appeal the decision.
Uganda: Covid-19 worsened insecurity for people of diverse SOGIESC, report finds
The misuse of Covid-19 response provisions has worsened the insecurity of our communities in Uganda, a new report has found.
Released a few weeks before the country’s recently concluded presidential elections – a time characterised by widespread violence and human rights abuses – the research conducted by Sexual Minorities Uganda indicated how misinterpretations in the Covid-19 response have led to several re-occurring human rights violations against the LGBTIQ+ community - including arbitrary arrests and detentions, lack of due process, and inhumane and degrading treatment while in custody.
The situation appeared to worsen even further in the run-up to the elections, when activists saw “increased harassment against LGBT persons and those who speak up for their rights”.
Repeated homophobic remarks by politicians prompted UNAIDS to express concern for the vilification of our communities, which could lead “to heightened violence, stigma and discrimination against them and reduce their access to HIV and other essential services”.
Campaigners also said last month’s arrest of human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo was also contributing to an increasingly tense environment. Opiyo was arrested by plain clothed-police men on 24 December and released on bail a few days later, prompting United Nations human rights experts and Pan Africa ILGA amongst others to express concern over the intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders in the country.
More news from Africa
In South Africa, the Department of Home Affairs is considering a new system for identity documents, which could include “a provision that enables the establishment of a category that is neither male nor female”
Malaysia: government mulls harsher laws against our communities
In a worrying development, the government of Malaysia may be considering amendments to a Syariah Courts act to increase heavier penalties for members of our communities.
Malaysia has a dual legal system, formed of secular laws and sharia laws – the latter applying only to Muslim citizens. According to the Borneo Post, a politician serving in the prime minister’s department in charge of Religious Affairs has stated that current punishments “are not giving much effect” on members of our communities, and called on harsher provisions.
He also urged the general public to report persons of non-conforming gender expression to authorities and claimed that “all state religious agencies and enforcers have been instructed to take action against those who do not behave accordingly”.
These statements were met with great concern by civil society organisations. “In the state of emergency where government has almost absolute power, this is terrifying”, Pelangi Campaign commented, while Lawyers for Liberty was quoted as saying that such provisions would be in breach of the Federal Constitution, which forbids discrimination on the basis of gender.
More news from Asia
ILGA Asia has announced the dates of its ninth conference, which will be held in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam in February 2022.
A court in Central Java, Indonesia rejected the lawsuit of a policeman, who was seeking to be reinstated in his role after being dismissed from the force on the grounds of his sexual orientation.
Civil society in Singapore is rallying in support of a trans student who has reported episodes of discrimination at her university, including claims that the Ministry of Education and her school interfered to stop her from receiving the hormone therapy that her doctor advised.
Australia: new research shows “overwhelming support” for trans equality
Almost four in five Australians agree that trans people deserve the same rights as protections as anybody else, a new poll commissioned by Equality Australia has shown.
More indicators of supportive public attitudes emerged from the survey: 66% of Australians think that religious schools should not be able to fire someone or expel a student for being trans, and that young people should be able to access healthcare that supports them to live as their true selves.
“Despite all the debates in social media and among some commentators, the broader community remains committed to supporting trans Australians to live fulfilling lives with dignity and respect,” commented Equality Australia Board member Ryan Phillips.
The country has recently undergone its Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations: while UN member States praised Australia for introducing marriage equality, they also urged the country to do more on LGBTI human rights, especially for its trans and intersex citizens.
More news from Oceania
A new UNAIDS report has highlighted how laws and policies in 38 countries across the Pacific and Asia perpetuate stigma, discrimination, violence, and other rights violations against people living with HIV and key populations.
A survey from the Ministry of Justice in Aotearoa New Zealand has shown that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are more than twice as likely to suffer from sexual violence or family harm than their heterosexual counterparts.
A bisexual man has been granted refugee status in Aotearoa New Zealand, after he had been subject to violence, extortion and false criminal charges in his homeland for decades.
Video of the month
2020 has been a heavy blow for many LGBTI persons, who had to fight the hardest to survive in a world that has become even more unequal and violent.
So, as we reflect on the past 12 months and enter 2021, we want to pause for a moment, remember the ones we have lost, the losses and rollbacks in LGBTIQ+ rights at the hands of a few states, and give thanks and gratitude that we are still here, continuing with the good fight until we are all truly free and equal!
Read our end-of-year message
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