The week in LGBTI news 4-10 December

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

No right is secured, and no fight is lost. Every day, our communities keep challenging rollbacks and pushing to advance equality despite obstacles and threats. This week, as we celebrate Human Rights Day, we look at the victories we marked and the challenges that we continue to face.

We’re fighting attempts to silence our voices. In Turkey, the trial against the 19 people arrested for attending a Pride March was postponed to April 2021. Amid protests, Tunisia arrested two activists who were peacefully calling for an end to hate speech. The United States approved a rule that would allow taxpayer-funded contractors to discriminate against people who don’t align with their religious views.

Stigma still pushes us to invisibility, as homophobia remains rampant in sports, two studies in Australia showed. Moreover, a new report has highlighted how global regulations that encourage discrimination, surveillance, violence, and coerced medical intervention on women athletes result in physical and psychological injury and economic hardship.

Nonetheless, we reap the benefits of our efforts. Bhutan is close to becoming the latest country in Asia to decriminalise same-sex relations. In Mexico, a report showed how the number of LGBT-friendly companies has continued to grow over the past 12 months.


Bhutan’s parliament decriminalises same-sex relations

Bhutan’s parliament approved a bill to legalise consensual same-sex relations between adults with an overwhelming majority of 63 members out of the total 69. Six were reported absent.

The bill amended the sections 213 and 214 of the penal code. According to ILGA World’s State Sponsored Homophobia report, the “unnatural sex law” provided for a punishment of maximum “less than one year” and minimum a month. Now, the changes will need to be approved by the king to come in effect. Many rights activists around the country cheered the news, calling it a “victory” for the community.

“I think the bill being passed on Human Rights Day itself is a momentous day for everyone in Bhutan,” Tashi Tsheten, director of Rainbow Bhutan, told Reuters. “I believe everyone who has stood up for the LGBT+ community in Bhutan is going to celebrate today as this is our victory.”

More news from Asia

In Indonesia, a former policeman is suing the forces for dismissing him on the grounds of his sexual orientation.

As the anti-discrimination bill remains in limbo in the Philippines, the city of Manila has re-painted a pedestrian lane in rainbow colours in support of the LGBTI community.

In Singapore, a retired doctor and LGBT advocate has filed a legal challenge to push government to repeal law that criminalizes same-sex act between consenting adults.



Europe and Central Asia

Turkey: trial against students that attended Pride March postponed to April 2021

The trial of 19 people accused of “unlawful assembly” for taking part in a Pride march last year has been postponed to April 2021, Turkish courts decided.

The 18 students and one academic were detained, charged, and prosecuted for attending the Pride march at Turkey’s Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara on 11 May 2019. The day before the scheduled event, which had peacefully taken place every year since 2011, the University administration announced it could not go ahead. Activists and students got together regardless, as the University had no legal basis to ban the march. However, the administration called the police, who used excessive force to disperse the crowd.

The decision to postpone the trial, which already has lasted one and a half years, has been heavily criticised as it negatively affects the everyday lives of the defendants and makes up a violation to the right to fair trial.

“This trial is not only against the METU students, but against Pride marches around the country” said Özgür Gür, from METU LGBTI+ Solidarity.

LGBTI rights have been systematically attacked in Turkey in recent years and by postponing the trial yet again without any comprehensible reasons, the courts are clearly infringing the right to a fair trial and fair judicial process,” said Katrin Hugendubel, Advocacy Director at ILGA-Europe. “This is a worrying signal from Turkey’s judiciary, especially in the context of rising hate-crime and hate-speech against the LGBTI community in the country. In 2020, LGBTI activists in Turkey have seen their offices targeted by violence, their online spaces restricted, and the LGBTI community has been blamed for the COVID-19 pandemic by religious and political leaders”.

In a separate case this week, a district court in Istanbul ruled that last year’s ban on the city’s Pride march was unlawful and in breach of the Turkish Constitution, the European Convention on Human rights, and other international agreements to which Turkey is a party.

More news from Europe and Central Asia

As Switzerland has got closer to making marriage equality a realiity, the Swiss National Council marked another significant step as it rejected proposed age limits for trans young people accessing legal gender recognition.

A recent study on the impact of COVID-19 on intersex people in Europe painted a troubling picture, as it found them in a highly-increased risk to not be able to access health care due to their history of medical trauma.

Poland should stop stigmatising LGBTI people, said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, calling on Polish authorities to reverse the current negative trends targeting the community.

Companies should adopt a gender-neutral language, a court ruled in Germany.

Portuguese young trans man’s request to join the army was rejected after he came out.




Tunisia: amid protests, two activists held for demanding an end to of hate speech

Amidst ongoing demonstrations over the state of the Tunisian healthcare sector and a law that would foster police impunity, two LGBT activists have been arrested for peacefully protesting against the rise of hate speech in parliament. According to the human rights group Damj, the two have been later released.

According to reports,  the arrests happened as dozens of feminist and queer associations were protesting after an MP gave a speech in parliament in which he repeatedly insulted women and rainbow communities. “What is especially revolting is that his speech was well-received by many who share the same misogynistic and queerphobic ideologies,” the Mawjoudin We Exist group wrote in a public statement.

As ILGA World’s State-Sponsored Homophobia report highlights, LGBT activists in the country suffer recurrent discrimination and violence at hands of law enforcement agents. Further, consensual same-sex relations between adults are punished with up to three years in prison. In July, two men were sentenced to two years in prison under this provision. The sentence was later upheld and reduced to one year by the court of appeal.

More news from Africa

A media monitoring group is launching a week-long workshop to help civil society organisations from across Sub-Saharan Africa to create and implement media advocacy strategies and campaigns to advance LGBTI equality.



North America and the Caribbean

United States: new rule will allow taxpayer-funded contractors to discriminate on religious grounds

Taxpayer-funded contractors will be allowed to discriminate against those who do not follow the ownership’s religious tenets, as the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs issued a final rule expanding the scope of contractors that may claim a religious exemption from employment nondiscrimination policies.

Such policies ban discrimination on different grounds, including sexual orientation and gender identity. Prior to the latest change, the rule was understood to only apply to faith-based non-profit organisations, allowing them to prefer to employ members of their faith.

Rights groups immediately criticised the move. “It is hard to overstate the harm that the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs is visiting on LGBTQ people, women, religious minorities, and others with the sledgehammer it is taking to federal nondiscrimination protections,” said Jennifer Pizer, director of law and policy at Lambda Legal. “This new rule uses religion to create an essentially limitless exemption allowing taxpayer-funded contractors to impose their religious beliefs on their employees without regard to the resulting harms, such as unfair job terms, invasive proselytizing and other harassment that make job settings unbearable for workers targeted on religious grounds”.

According to Lambda Legal, this rule would allow “almost any federal contractor to claim a right to fire a person, deny health benefits or take other forms of discriminatory action for marrying a same-sex partner or coming out as transgender, or who the employer or would-be employer discovers is transgender, for living in accordance with their gender identity.”

More news from North America and the Caribbean

In the United States, a trans woman sued the Georgia Department of Corrections for housing her in men’s facilities, failing to protect her from assault and curbing access to gender-affirming healthcare. Meanwhile, a similar case in Florida resulted in a setback for trans rights, as the court refused to review a ruling that upheld the prison’s decision.

The Supreme Court of the United States has refused to hear an appeal objecting to a district policy which allowed trans students to use facilities consistent with their gender identity.

Nearly two dozen companies in North America have pledged to mentor at LGBT refugees over the next three years.

Over 250,000 people signed an online petition in support of a gay teen in the United States who was suspended by his school for wearing nail polish.



Latin America and the Caribbean

Number of LGBT-friendly companies in Mexico continues to grow, report shows

The number of companies with LGBT-inclusive policies continues to grow, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s program in Mexico reported in its latest 2021 HRC Equidad MX report. According to the review, 212 employers earned top ratings, an increase of 77 percent over 2019 total of 120.

The report assessed major Mexican businesses and multinational companies on the adoption of non-discrimination policies, creation of employee resource groups or diversity and inclusion councils and engagement in public activities to support LGBT inclusion.

“This year’s results are truly inspiring,” said Francisco Robledo and Fernando Velázquez, HRC Equidad MX Implementing Partners. “The growing number of businesses committed to promoting LGBT-inclusive policies and practices in Mexico indicates that more and more corporate leaders understand and value the fairness and benefits of inclusive workplaces: 39% of this year’s topscorers are Mexican companies. This is a huge milestone for LGBTQ inclusion efforts in Mexico and we hope that it is now serving as inspiration for other Latin American countries.”

“Despite already reaching 235 participating companies and 212 certified with the highest score, great challenges remain,” added Robledo. “On one hand, these inclusion policies need to be transformed into actual skills, through training and performance assessment plans. On the other hand, a larger number of the biggest companies in Mexico must be reached.”

More news from Latin America and the Caribbean

In Mexico, the State of Tlaxcala became the latest to recognise marriage equality after approving a reform to its Civic Code.

In Argentina, Mara Gómez became the first openly trans woman to play professional soccer in the country’s premier soccer division.




Homophobic slurs are keeping athletes in the closet, Australian studies show

LGBTQI representation in professional sports is still lacking due to bullying and slurs, two studies recently released in Melbourne highlighted.

The first survey analysed responses from 1173 LGBTI people aged 15-21 that are living in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand and Ireland. According to its results, only 20 percent of the LGBTQI youth were out to everyone on their team – and figures are even lower in Aotearoa New Zealand, where only 13 percent of queer youth are out to their teammates. Overall, 52 percent of males and 36 percent of females reported they had been a target of homophobic bullying assault and slurs.

“These findings are very concerning, because being the target of homophobic language is harmful to LGBTQI youth and it increases their risk of suicide and self-harm,” said Erik Denison, a researcher at the School of Social Sciences.

The second study investigated the use of homophobic language among male athletes. Conducted in 2018, with 97 rugby union players aged 16-18 from South Australia and 148 elite ice hockey players aged 16-31 from Australia, the research found that over a half of them had used homophobic slurs in the previous two weeks and 69 percent had heard their teammates use this language.

“If LGBTQI youth hear homophobic slurs being used by their teammates, it is understandable why they would think this language is motivated by prejudice and feel the need to hide their sexuality or leave sports,” said Denison.

More news from Oceania

In Australia, the lower house of the Victorian Parliament has approved the ban on so-called “conversion therapies”.

Aotearoa New Zealand will host a Pride Round next month, a first in the country’s cricket history.

In light of World Rugby’s guidelines which banned trans women from playing in elite women’s rugby, Aotearoa New Zealand’s Sport NZ and Rugby NZ are working to draft their own guidelines which will allow trans athletes to compete in community-level sport.



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