LGBulleTIn #190 – The week in LGBTI news (19-25 March 2021)
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The week in LGBTI news
19 -25 March 2021

Written and edited by Daniele Paletta


This week, decisions made by states and countries have caused concerns not only among our communities, but also among the international human rights bodies and civil society at large.

United Nations and Council of Europe representatives have called on Turkey to reconsider its “ill-advised decision” to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, a unique legal instrument to tackle domestic and other forms of violence against women. In the United States, lawmakers in Arkansas passed a bill that would allow providers to decline health care on the grounds of their religious beliefs – a move that could lead to discrimination against LGBTI communities amongst others. A discriminatory sports bill was also signed into law in this state, and more attacks against the trans community are on the horizon.

Two babies who were born in South Africa are being denied travel documents to their home in Namibia, as the government is not recognising them as daughters of two gay men. A new report has cast a light on the “complex web of violence and discrimination” for LGBT persons in Guatemala, calling on the government to take meaningful steps to increase protections for our communities.

Meanwhile, in Aotearoa New Zealand, protests in Christchurch high schools have sparked an intense debate among students over LGBTI rights and the need to call out bullying and sexual harassment. Our communities demand for our experiences and voices to be heard: the World Health Organisation and global partners have called on countries in Asia and the Pacific to fast-track HIV testing approaches for key populations, and to engage with them while implementing these initiatives.


Read this week's news from...


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The image has a orange background, and reads North America and the Caribbean in white colour

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Europe and Central Asia

In “pushback against women’s rights”, Turkey withdraws from Istanbul Convention

Turkey has announced its withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, a human rights treaty by the Council of Europe to prevent and combat violence against women.

An official government source claims that the Convention was allegedly “hijacked by a group of people attempting to normalize homosexuality – which is incompatible with Türkiye’s social and family values”, hence the decision to withdraw. This move comes nine years after the country had become the first Member State to ratify the convention with a unanimous vote in parliament.

The Istanbul Convention is a unique legal instrument to tackle domestic and other forms of violence against women - including psychological and physical abuse, sexual harassment, rape, crimes committed in the name of so-called “honour”, stalking, and forced marriage. The treaty also requires states to implement practical measures to prevent violence against women, protect survivors and prosecute perpetrators.

The decision of Turkey to withdraw has been met with great concern by international human rights bodies.  Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović spoke of an “ill-advised decision” that “undermines women’s rights and sends the wrong signal to all women in Turkey and beyond”. “At a time when femicide and other forms of violence against women are on the rise in the country,” she said,  “Turkey should not step back and reduce its tools to fight against this scourge”.

At least 28 United Nations and regional human rights experts also spoke up against the decision: "The present time calls for better implementation of international norms and standards, not for Turkey to dissociate from them," they said.

More news from Europe and Central Asia

Portugal updated its guidelines on blood donors to evaluate the candidates’ eligibility on the grounds of their behaviours, without discriminating on the grounds of their sexual orientation.

The European Union imposed sanctions on two Russian officials over the persecution of lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Chechnya.

The UN Independent Expert on SOGI and 10 other Special Procedures mandate holders wrote to the government of Poland, demanding answers about their plans to stop violence and discrimination against LGBTI community in the country.

While a new report highlighted the experiences of trans parents with freedom of movement in the European Union, human rights organisations wrote to the governments of Spain and Germany as the countries are working to reform their legal gender recognition provisions.  Meanwhile, a court in Scotland sided with the government as it included trans women among the 50% quota among non-executive public board members that is reserved for women.



Namibia denies entry documents for gay dads' twins born in South Africa

Two new-born baby girls, born in South Africa two weeks ago, are being denied entry into Namibia as the government is not recognising their rainbow family, local civil rights organisations reported.

The two babies, conceived via surrogacy, were born on 13 March in a hospital in South Africa. Phillip Lühl, a Namibian citizen, was there to welcome them to the world, and South African authorities regularly issued a birth certificate stating that him and his partner are the babies’ fathers.

Namibia’s Ministry of Home Affairs, Immigration, Safety and Security, however, has so far refused to issue travel documents for the twins to allow them into the country, and has reportedly demanded a paternity test to prove that they are Lühl’s biological children.

According to The Namibian, the man has filed an urgent application in the Windhoek High Court to order the minister to issue emergency travel certificates to his daughters. On the day of the hearing, dozens of persons marched in the streets of the capital in solidarity with the rainbow family.

“In refusing to issue travel documents, the ministry renders the twins de facto stateless [and] prevents the family from being united, contravening Namibian and international laws,” founder of LGBT Namibia Chris de Villiers was quoted as writing in a letter to Namibian minister of Home Affairs. “[The LGBTQ community are] not asking to be favoured but, just like everyone else, we do not want to be discriminated against.


More news from Africa

As South Africa celebrated Human Rights Day, organisations have called  on the government to uphold the Convention on the Rights of the Child by ending intersex genital mutilation, and to create laws and policies to promote and protect the rights of intersex persons.

A cross-party group of lawmakers in Ghana are reportedly preparing a bill that would strengthen current laws criminalising consensual same-sex relations.



Aotearoa New Zealand: protests at high school sparks debate over LGBTI rights, bullying and sexual harassment

Protests at the Christchurch Boys’ High School are sparking an intense debate among students over LGBTI rights, bullying and harassment, the Stuff news outlet reports.

At the beginning of the week, students and faculty found at least eight statements written in chalk on walls and pavements, both in support of rainbow students and calling out bullying and sexual harassment. The graffiti were alleged written by students at Christchurch Girls’ High, and the two schools vowed to work together and listen to their students.

Later during the week, an intense debate on these issues erupted on social media. Inside Out managing director Tabby Besley was quoted as claiming that the graffiti were a “clear cry for support” from students trying to raise awareness. However, when about a hundred Christchurch Girls’ High School pupils marched towards the boys’ school in a protest around the need to tackle sexual harassment, they were turned away by police.

Rainbow Youth executive director Frances Arns said issues facing rainbow school students were outlined in a document that was sent to the government ahead of the 2020 election.

It called for all schools to implement anti-discrimination policies to ensure safe and inclusive environments, “including addressing bullying, respecting student privacy and options for gender-neutral facilities and uniforms”.


More news from Oceania

In Australia, a New South Wales man convicted for the death of Filipina trans woman Mhelody Bruno will be re-sentenced after avoiding jail, despite being found guilty of manslaughter.

In a reported first for Aotearoa New Zealand, a rainbow flag was hoisted at the Porirua war memorial in celebration of Wellington Pride events. However, the gesture reportedly attracted both support and a wave of hostile comments on social media.


Latin America and the Caribbean

Report highlights “complex web of violence and discrimination” for LGBT persons in Guatemala

At least 19 LGBT persons were murdered in Guatemala in 2020, and five more members of our community were reportedly killed during the first four weeks of 2021 alone, a new report by Human Rights Watch has pointed out.

The publication highlighted the “complex web of violence and discrimination” that threatens LGBT persons in the country, where “family rejection and discrimination lead to a higher likelihood of economic marginalisation”, and poverty places them “at high risk of violence from gang members, from other members of the public, and from police and other members of the security forces.”

“Congress should take meaningful steps to increase protections for LGBT people,” said Human Rights Watch, “including by passing Initiative 5674, which would address hate crimes and require the government to establish a comprehensive national plan to protect LGBT and intersex rights. It should also scrap the discriminatory “Life and Family Protection” bill and stop harassing authorities for supporting LGBT rights.”

Human rights ombudsperson Jordán Rodas has also called on the Attorney General’s office to establish a special unit to investigate hate crimes on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.


More news from Latin America and the Caribbean

A survey on the mental health of lesbian, bisexual and queer women, trans and non-binary persons in Ecuador showed that almost 80% of respondents reported experiencing despair and hopelessness during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Senate of Puerto Rico has begun public hearings about Bill 184, which seeks to ban so-called ‘conversion therapies’ in medical or clinical settings.

Two persons in Nicaragua have been charged with the murder of Lala, a trans woman who was brutally murdered at the beginning of March 2021. LGBTI organisations, however, reported that officials did not recognise discrimination as an aggravating factor in the crime.


North America and the Caribbean

Arkansas, United States: lawmakers pass bill to let providers decline health care on the grounds of their religious beliefs, governor signs discriminatory sports bill

A bill that would allow providers to decline health care services on the grounds of their alleged religious or moral beliefs has been passed by legislature in Arkansas and submitted to the State’s governor for signature or veto.

If enacted, civil rights organisations pointed out, the bill would have negative consequences for patients, including LGBTQ people. As Human Rights Campaigns explains, the Medical Ethics and Diversity Act (SB 289) would allow health care institutions and providers to refuse care, even when medically necessary, except for emergency situations. Should the bill become law, for example, “a counselor could refuse to provide grief counseling to a same-sex couple where one spouse has been diagnosed with cancer, or a doctor could refuse to maintain hormone treatments for a transgender patient needing inpatient care for an infection.”

A similar bill was voted down by Arkansas legislature four years ago, as well as by the Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee of the State’s House, before being passed on the second attempt.

Civil rights organisations are calling on the governor not to sign it into law. “In the midst of a devastating and ongoing Covid-19 pandemic”, said Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David, “we should be expanding access to health care and making it more affordable, not advancing bills that make it harder for LGBTQ Arkansans to receive the care they need.”

More attacks against our communities, and against trans people in particular, are on the horizon in Arkansas. On Thursday evening, governor Asa Hutchinson signed Senate Bill 354 into law, stating that “athletic teams or sports that are sponsored by a school shall be expressly designated (…) based on biological sex”. According to ACLU, Arkansas is also mulling a bill that would completely bar gender-affirming health care for trans youth and bar public insurance coverage for trans people of any age.


More news from North America and the Caribbean

According to a new study, trans people in the United States are over four times more likely than cisgender people to become a victim of violent crimes.

The hate crimes unit of police in Ottawa, Canada is investigating after a homophobic graffiti was painted in front of the house of city’s mayor and out gay man Jim Watson.

In the United States, New York State Senate passed a bill that could help direct more services and programs towards older LGBTQ people and seniors living with HIV/AIDS.



WHO and partners urge countries to implement innovative HIV testing approaches for key populations

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and global partners have called on countries in Asia and the Pacific to fast-track innovative HIV testing approaches for key populations – including men who have sex with men, trans people, and sex workers.

According to 2019 data by UNAIDS, key populations and their partners accounted for 62% of all new infections worldwide, including the largest share of new infections in every region other than eastern and southern Africa. At the same time, the WHO pointed out that significant gaps still exist in HIV diagnoses in Asia and the Pacific, where it is estimated that only 75% of people living with HIV are aware of their status compared to 81% globally.

HIV self-testing, together with facility- and community-based testing, could make the difference in reducing this gap. However, according to the WHO, some of these innovative approaches have not yet been implemented and effectively scaled up in the Asia and Pacific region.

An online discussion among 150 stakeholders addressed the situation in the region, calling on community engagement and leadership to meaningfully reach key populations.

“Results from demonstration and pilot projects across Asia and the Pacific region show that differentiated HIV testing approaches, including community-based testing by lay providers and HIV self-testing, are acceptable and feasible to implement, particularly when led by the communities,” said Inga Oleksy, who leads the HIV Services for Key Populations in Asia Program at the Australian Federation of AIDS Organizations.


More news from Asia

In a reported first for the country, a madrasa (religious school) allowing only trans persons among its students has opened in Pakistan.

The University of the Philippines has issued a memorandum directing all deans, directors and heads of academic units to affirm trans and gender diverse students’ names, pronouns and titles.


Photo of the week


A rainbow lifeguard tower in Long Beach, CA, United States was burned down, in what the city’s mayor suspects being “an act of hate”.
We are are sure this beautiful symbol of Pride will be rebuilt to shine even brighter than before, and we look forward even more to bringing the global LGBTI community to LA Long Beach for the ILGA World Conference in May 2022, hosted by the It Gets Better Project!


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