The week in LGBTI news 20 – 26 March 2020

Written by Kellyn Botha Edited by Daniele Paletta Read more Read less

It has been another week of Covid-19 headlines, as the pandemic continues to spread uncertainty and affect people around the world. But beyond the front pages of the world’s media are stories about our communities – their struggles and their triumphs.

While we are dedicating a section of this bulletin to list just some of the pandemic-related news affecting our community, it is also important to still highlight stories of the general struggle for LGBTI equality around the world!

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has confirmed that compensation has been paid to a gay man in Colombia who had fought for years for the right to access his late partner’s pension. While praised for recent progress on its human rights record, Moldova has been urged to step up its protections for LGBTI persons against hate speech; on the other hand, in the United States, the Justice Department has formally declared its support for a transphobic lawsuit against trans athletes in Connecticut.

Important reports continue to highlight the realities lived by many LGBTI persons worldwide:  a new study has showcased the challenges often faced in gathering data about human rights abuses against our communities in South AfricaMalawiKenyaUganda and Botswana; while another report has exposed widespread abuses of military conscripts in Thailand who are perceived to be gay.

And, sadly, the first Pride to ever take place in the Cook Islands had to be indefinitely postponed for the sake of public health.

To many of us, this feels like a very dark world these days. Now more than ever, this is a time for solidarity: let’s commit to continue to look out for each other. Because we are #inthistogether, we are stronger together and we will make it through as a community that takes care of each other.

Covid-19 news


North America

USA: Justice Department declares stance against trans women athletes

The United States Justice Department has officially sided with a group of high school athletes who sued the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) over a policy allowing trans women athletes to compete as women.

According to reports, US Attorney-General William Barr signed a statement of interest, arguing against the policy. Together with other Justice Department officials, he argued in favour of the largely discredited belief that trans women have an inherent advantage over cis women in sport, stating  that CIAC’s interpretation of non-discrimination laws “may not account for the real physiological differences between men and women.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, whose attorneys represent the trans athletes involved in the case, said it was deeply troubled that the U.S. government would weigh in to “make clear that it does not believe girls who are trans enjoy protections under federal law.”

“Our clients are two high school seniors who are just trying to enjoy their final track season of high school and who now have to contend with the federal government arguing against their right to equal educational opportunities,” said Chase Strangio, deputy director for Trans Justice at the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project. “History will look back on these anti-trans attacks with deep regret and shame. In the meantime we will continue to fight for the rights of all girls to participate in the sports they love.”


More news from North America

In the United States, a lawsuit was filed against the Department of Health and Human Services after it planned to permit federally funded organisations to turn people away claiming conflicts with ‘religious beliefs’.

A study released  in the United States has shown that access to identification documents which reflect their name and gender has a significant positive impact on the mental health of trans persons.




Cook Islands: first Pride indefinitely postponed amid Covid-19 concerns

The historic first pride celebration in the history of the Cook Islands has been indefinitely postponed as the government ramps up efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19.

According to Pride Cook Islands spokesperson Karla Eggleton, the government had made a “request of reducing events and group gatherings of more than 50 people”. The Te Tiare association, which had planned the Pride day celebrations for 27 March, decided then to put the event on hold “indefinitely”: “It was in the best interests of the event as well as in the best interests of our nation that we postpone until further notice for when the country is ready to support such an important event like Pride.”

Currently, at least 120 LGBTI events and Pride festivals around the world have now been cancelled or postponed: an international coordination group has formed to support Pride organisers navigate the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.


More news from Oceania

In Samoa, a new documentary – The Rogers of Samoa – chronicles the lives and experiences of trans men in the Pacific island nation.

A new four-part drama series about a trans girl navigating her first year in high school will soon air on a national TV channel in Australia.



Latin America and the Caribbean

Colombia complied with ruling granting gay man’s right to late partner’s pension, Court confirms

In an historic resolution, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights confirmed that Colombia complied with a ruling that granted a gay men access to his late partner’s pension funds.

The couple had lived together for a decade until 2001, though proceedings took more than 18 years before the legal battle came to an end. The Colfondos Fund stated at the time that Ángel Alberto Duque could not claim a survivor’s pension, as Colombian legislation at the time did not recognise same-sex partnerships.

This decision was upheld by Colombian courts, until the case was first taken to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and then to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.
In 2016, the latter ordered Colombia to “guarantee Mr. Duque the priority processing of his application for a survivor’s pension”, and to pay him compensation. Earlier this month, then, the Inter-American Court certified that Colombia complied with expeditiously resolving the man’s request.”


More news from Latin America and the Caribbean

A trans woman and a gay man were killed in the eastern part of El Salvador, in two separate incidents over just one week. Since 2015, when the penal code was reformed to include SOGIE among the aggravating factors for murder, no case has been closed on such grounds.

In St Vincent and the Grenadines, a man who in 2017 had killed another in reaction to a homophobic insult has received a reduced prison sentence.




Thailand: report finds among widespread abuses of soldiers, gay conscripts especially targeted

A new report by Amnesty International has exposed “a widespread and long-standing pattern of abuse of new conscripts” in Thailand, “including several incidents of rape”.

According to reports, recruits who are gay or perceived as such are often singled out. Because of their perceived sexuality or gender expressions, the report notes, some were “forced to entertain and massage commanders, in situations that sometimes involve further sexual abuse.” Several soldiers who were interviewed under condition of anonymity claimed to be “coerced into providing ‘sexual favours’ to commanders”.

In response to the report, a Thai army spokesman said that any allegation of abuse would be investigated.

More might need to be done, according to Amnesty International.  “The Thai military would need to create a new unit that is authorised, trained and equipped to deal with soldiers’ complaints and act upon them,” said Clare Algar, the organisation’s Senior Director for Research, Advocacy & Policy. “It’s equally important that conscripts and other soldiers are allowed to complain safely and confidentially to the National Human Rights Commission. The authorities must encourage a culture that respects everyone’s dignity, irrespective of seniority, rank, sexual orientation and gender identity.”


More news from Asia

In South Korea, a lesbian woman who had a traditional Korean wedding to advocate for marriage equality in her country is suing a group of ‘trolls’ who made hateful comments online.

In Hong Kong, a petition has been launched urging the government not to appeal a ruling allowing same-sex couples to apply for public housing.




New report outlines experiences of LGBTQI persons in South Africa, Botswana, Malawi, Uganda and Kenya

A group of human rights organisations from Southern Africa have published a multilateral report on violence against LGBTQI persons in South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Malawi and Uganda.

The study found that, despite a notable variety of local contexts, violence against people with diverse SOGIESC is still widespread.

“LGBTQI persons living in Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa and Uganda all face significant threats to their wellbeing and safety,” the report reads. “There is almost no government response to these violations in Botswana, Kenya, Malawi and Uganda. There have been an insignificant number of arrests and prosecutions in those few cases that are reported”. Furthermore, “despite South Africa’s progressive legislative framework and government interventions, this has failed to penetrate the workings of the criminal justice system in ways which are beneficial to LGBTQI persons.”

The report notes that Kenya, South Africa and Uganda “have all produced useful quantitative data as well as rich ethnographic accounts and qualitative analyses that give insight into the experiences of LGBTQI persons”, while state-sponsored oppression in Malawi “means that the movement is much less visible than in the other countries.”

Executive Director of Iranti, Jabulani Pereira, noted that the absence of systems to document hate crimes and LGBTQI experiences contributes to a lack of response from authorities. “Evidence of violations is the only way in which our governments can believe, respond and plan for better interventions”, he said. “Hate and violence exist because of systemic failures to adequately protect persons on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics.”


More news from Africa

The Intersex Society of Zambia has called on the country’s government to create a legal framework to recognise intersex persons, and on the media to assist in raising awareness.

In Botswana, local organisation LEGABIBO has urged the government to abandon its appeal of the 2019 ruling that decriminalised consensual same-sex relations, and to focus resources on combatting the spread of Covid-19 instead.



Europe and Central Asia

Moldova: Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights calls for protections against LGBTI hate speech and hate crimes

The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, has called for Moldova to strengthen legislation to protect LGBTI persons from hate speech and hate crimes.

During her recent five-day visit to the country, she was informed about the extent to which certain groups in the country – LGBTI persons, but also Roma people, migrants, and those living with HIV/AIDS – are still often targeted. As the Commissioner called for better protections for these communities, she also urged the country to reinforce the role of the Council for Preventing and Eliminating Discrimination and Ensuring Equality.

“Politicians and community leaders should not perpetuate existing stereotypes concerning different groups in society and should abstain from using homophobic and sexist rhetoric, including in their political campaigns,” said Mijatović. “Instead, they should promote respect for diversity”.

The commissioner also commended Moldova for its efforts on de-institutionalising persons with mental and physical disabilities, and for its progress in aligning legislation on women’s rights and domestic violence with international standards but urged the country to do more.

“A speedy ratification of the Istanbul Convention will send a strong message of its determination to put an end to violence in the family”, she said.


More news from Europe and Central Asia

In Andorra, lawmakers have drafted a bill to expand on existing civil union legislation to offer full marriage equality.

A new study in Germany has confirmed that the extent to which people can live a free and self-determined life according to their own body, gender, and sexuality” has a positive influence on their health and social connections.

A court in Turkey has lifted the second ban on LGBTI activities in the capital. According to reports, the governor’s office was unable to provide the court with any concrete documents relating to the justification for the ban.


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