The week in LGBTI news 6-12 November

Written by Maddalena Tomassini Edited by Daniele Paletta Read more Read less

This week, institutions took the matter of LGBTI equality in their own hands: the European Commission launched its first-ever strategy to tackle the inequalities and challenges affecting our communities, while the Inter-American Court of Human Rights held its first-ever hearing on a case of the murder of a trans woman, who had lost her life in 2009 in Honduras.

Communities on the ground also continue their daily fight towards a world that is free of discrimination: in China, queer people are pushing for same-sex couples to be recognised during the country’s decennial census, and a new service seeks to reduce barriers to accessing HIV testing in  Aotearoa New Zealand.

After the presidential election in the United States, there is growing hope that laws, policies and public attitudes towards LGBTI people will shift, with a ripple effect that may go well beyond its borders.

Attacks and setbacks are still far from over: in  Gabon, despite this year’s decriminalisation of same-sex intimacy between consenting adults, two women were arrested for “gross indecency”, and in Hungary legislative amendments that would stigmatize trans people and same-sex couples raising children, and make single-parent adoption and LGBTQI school education programs impossible, were presented to parliament.
And, as our struggle for equality continues, we prepare to commemorate and mourn our trans siblings lost in the past year: according to the latest Trans Murder Monitoring update, at least 350 trans and gender-diverse people were murdered between 1 October 2019 and 30 September 2020. As we celebrate their resilience, we renew our commitment to a future where they won’t risk their lives only for being their true selves.

Europe and Central Asia

Union of Equality: the European Commission presents its first-ever strategy on LGBTIQ equality

The European Commission launched its first-ever EU Strategy for LGBTIQ equality, as announced by President von der Leyen in her 2020 State of the Union Address.  The document comes at a time when discrimination against LGBTI individuals is rising in many European countries, and – according to ILGA-Europe – it “marks a qualitative shift from the European Commission towards playing its full role to defend and protect LGBTI rights”.

“For the first time, the Strategy sets out a clear work programme for a wide range of services in the European Commission in relation to LGBTI rights,” said Katrin Hugendubel, Advocacy Director at ILGA-Europe. “It is committed to being true to the values set out in the EU treaties – like for example proposing legislation to finally ensure that parents can move freely across member states without losing their parental status, (or) to taking a leadership role in working with member states in areas where change needs to happen on national level –  such as banning so-called ‘conversion therapies’ and ensuring legal gender recognition procedures based on self determination. With its understanding that LGBTI rights are not niche issues but touch on all areas of life, the strategy clearly acknowledges the structural discrimination and marginalisation of LGBTI people.”

The document also explicitly cites some “worrying trends of more frequent anti-LGBTIQ incidents”, while Hungary and Poland have recently made headlines for their revived attacks on LGBTI people’s rights. This week alone, the government of Hungary initiated the abolishment of the Equal Treatment Authority – the country‘s prominent equality body set up in 2005. It also submitted amendments that would add a provision to the Constitution stating that “the mother is a woman, the father is a man”, while also presenting a bill to explicitly state that only married couples can adopt children. A provision to make LGBTQI school education programs impossible was also presented to Parliament. Meanwhile, an anti-LGBT group proposed a law in Poland seeking to ban Pride Parades or any other public gathering “promoting” queer identities.

More news from Europe and Central Asia

Norway amended its penal code to expand its protections against hate speech, updating its 1981 Law to add “gender, gender identity or expression” and replace “homosexual orientation” with “sexual orientation”.

Finland’s military has been criticised for reportedly defining “homosexuality” as an obstacle to service in its training manual.

An important step towards marriage equality was taken in Switzerland, as the Legal Affairs Commission of the Council of States adopted a bill to introduce it. While the parliamentary debates continue,  a poll showed that 82% of the country’s population supports the introduction of marriage equality.



Latin America and the Caribbean

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights holds historic hearing on the case of a murdered trans woman

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights held a hearing in the case of Vicky Hernández, a trans woman, sex worker and activist who was killed in Honduras after the military coup of June 2009.

The Cattrachas Lesbian Network filed the petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2012, alleging that the State bore responsibility for her death and that it violated her right to life by failing to conduct a meaningful investigation about her murder. The Commission submitted the case to the Court last year, months after it found Honduras responsible for violating her right to life, to equal protection and non-discrimination, and to judicial protection.

This is the first time that a case of a trans person’s murder reaches the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Organisations on the ground have long demanded justice for Vicky Hernández, as well as for the 347 LGBT persons whose murders have been reported in Honduras from 1994 to 2019.

“With so much impunity, with so many deaths, this is like collective justice,” Cattrachas coordinator Indyra Mendoza told Agencia Presentes. “There are going to be other trans’ names there. There were prejudice, discrimination, violence, and hate, but in the end we are going to achieve that collective justice.”

“All victims of violence in Honduras deserve to have their cases taken seriously and investigated thoroughly by the authorities,” said Cristian González Cabrera, LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “LGBT people, who often face discrimination from the law enforcement agents and judicial institutions charged with keeping them safe, are no exception.”

At the end of the hearing, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights decided to grant provisional measures in the case, requiring Honduras to immediately “adopt all the appropriate measures to effectively protect the rights to life and personal integrity of Vicky Hernandez’s family members, as well as those of the members of the organisation Red Lésbica Cattrachas, which is litigating the case in court.”

More news from Latin America and the Caribbean

Chile’s Supreme Court ordered a health insurance company to provide coverage for a trans woman’s gender-affirming surgeries.

A recent study showcased how race, class, gender identity and sexual orientation overlap in marginalising LGBTI people of colour in Brazil, excluding them from an equal access to education, health and the formal labor market.

After five years and two rejected requests, a trans woman in Paraguay was sworn in as a lawyer – a reported first in the country.




Aotearoa New Zealand: vending machines to distribute home HIV test kits in an attempt to reduce barriers to accessing testing

In a move to overcome fears of stigma and discrimination, the New Zealand AIDS Foundation launched at home self-administered HIV testing kits that will soon be available for free through vending machines.

The NZ AIDS Foundation estimates that  50 per cent of gay and bisexual men are not out to their healthcare providers, as they face multiple barriers when seeking to be tested – including stigma, cost, accessibility, and fear of being “outed”. NZ AIDS Foundation chief executive Dr Jason Myers explained that the vending machines are going to “meet people where they are”, providing them with tools to take control of their sexual health.

A pilot of the concept in Auckland found that over one in four among the 162 users had not been tested in the previous 12 months. “Having more of these machines in venues will enable more men who may need to be discreet, or aren’t able to have conversations about sexual practice with their healthcare providers, to test themselves in the comfort of their own homes,” Myers said.

More news from Oceania

The State of Victoria could soon become the third State in Australia to ban so-called “conversion therapy”.

In Australia, the New South Wales government introduced a bill seeking to enforce compulsory HIV testing of persons whose bodily fluids have come into contact with frontline health, emergency or public sector workers. The move was condemned by experts and community organisations.




Despite decriminalisation, Gabon arrests two women for “gross indecency”

Two Gabonese women have reportedly been arrested in eastern Gabon for “gross indecency”. According to the Agence France Presse, they were accused of “faking a gay marriage” and kissing in public. The two women now risk two years in prison and a fine of 2 million CFA francs (3,500 euros).

The report comes a few months after Gabon formally decriminalised consensual same-sex intimacy between adults in June, scrapping a short-lived ban that had been introduced in the Criminal Code in 2019. The law, however,  “does not allow to celebrate same-sex unions or to kiss in public because it offends morality,” explained a source close to the case on condition of anonymity.

This arrest confirms a worrying trend described in ILGA World’s State-Sponsored Homophobia report: even prior to the 2019 ban, African activists had reported arrests for “moral attacks” based only on the form of dressing “translating sexual orientation”.

More news from Africa

A court in Senegal sentenced to prison seven out of the 24 persons that had been arrested last month during a celebration that police alleged was a “gay wedding”.

In Angola, the National Assembly approved a final reading of the new Penal Code which will go into effect in February 2021. Provisions that were used to criminalise same-sex sexual activity are removed, while protections from discrimination are expanded to include sexual orientation amongst others.

The mayor of Johannesburg, South Africa, announced that the city is committed to support our communities and “would not tolerate discrimination against any resident based on their sexuality.”




China’s same-sex couples come out to census takers, hoping for visibility

As China started the once-in-a-decade census, same-sex couples have been coming out to seek recognition and visibility. Posts appeared on social media encouraging queer people to tell census takers: “They are not my roommate, they are my partner.”

Even if information beyond the predefined responses won’t be recorded, activists hope to gain visibility and move forward their fight for legal recognition. “These census takers may have never met, or even heard of, gay people, so if we have the opportunity to talk to them, they can better understand the LGBT community,” said Peng Yanzi, director of LGBT Rights Advocacy China, the NGO behind the campaign.

China decriminalised same-sex intimacy between consenting adults in 1997 but doesn’t provide legal recognition for same-sex partnerships. Earlier this year, the National People’s Congress passed the country’s first-ever civil code, assigning a property owner the power to grant another individual the right to live on the property for life, giving hope to same-sex couples often hit by evictions.

Advocates claim that acceptance has been growing among the population.  “We are a part of China’s population,” Peng said. “But the system hasn’t kept up with the times.”

More news from Asia

In Bangladesh, a religious charity group opened a Koranic school for the hijra community – a reported first in the country.

After receiving a “Letter of Objection” from the Hong Kong Police Force, the Hong Kong Pride Parade’s Organising Committee has decided to move the Parade online with a live streaming event that will take place on 14 November.



North America and the Caribbean

United States: after Joe Biden’s win, more work lies ahead towards LGBTI equality worldwide

LGBTI activists around the world are looking to the new US President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, hoping for change as elections marked some pivotal moments for LGBTI people in the United States.

Indeed, a record number of openly queer persons were elected in federal, state and local elections across the country – perhaps an indication of increased societal acceptance of LGBTI persons in the USA. VP-elected Kamala Harris chose a black lesbian woman as Chief of Staff, and many cheered when Biden ackowledged trans persons during his victory speech.

A shift in laws, policies and public attitudes towards LGBTI people in the United States is poised to have a ripple effect well beyond its borders. “[LGBTI people] have been subject to increased hate that has been unleashed in copy-cat imitation of the poor presidential leadership in the United States,” ILGA World Executive Director André du Plessis told the Washington Blade. “[We] have experienced first-hand what happens when society is encouraged to bully, shame, mock, harm and belittle others who are different.”

“The citizens of the United States have this week voted—albeit closely—to reject this kind of leadership,” said du Plessis. “The planet is crying out for more compassionate, mature, visionary, unifying and empathetic leaders, and we now look to President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris to be an example.”

More news from North America and the Caribbean

In the United States, three families in Arizona have filed a lawsuit over a state law that requires trans individuals to undergo gender-affirming surgeries to change the gender marker on their birth certificates.

According to a recent study, uninsured trans people in the United States are more likely to use non-prescription hormones.


Photo of the week

Even in these difficult times, we continue to come together and have important conversations. On Thursday 19 November, ILGA World will co-host two online events: one to commemorate Trans Day of Remembrance, and one to discuss best practices and challenges towards LGBTI equality in the workplace. Register now: we look forward to meeting you there!

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