The week in LGBTI news 29 January – 4 February 2021

Written and edited by Daniele Paletta Read more Read less

It has been a week of unrest for our communities in many parts of the world. “We won’t look down”, said LGBTI people in Turkey as they got caught in a storm of arrests, police violence, smear campaigns and online hate speech. Three persons were arrested outside a Ministry in Singapore while protesting anti-trans discrimination.

While Brazil celebrated Trans Day of Visibility, a report cast a light on the lived realities of the community in the country, while three trans women of colour who serve as city councillors escaped violence.

And yet, amidst all this violence and struggles, our global community found reasons to celebrate. In Canada, the Quebec Supreme Court issued a historic ruling in favour of trans, non-binary, and intersex rights, and in Australia the State of Victoria passed a comprehensive bill banning ‘conversion therapy’. Our communities also rejoiced for the extradition of a trans woman, who is finally able to return to Cyprus after being jailed in dire conditions for over one year in Egypt.

Europe and Central Asia

Turkey: LGBTI community under attack amidst police violence, smear campaigns and arrests

Police detained 159 people over protests against the appointment of a new rector at the Bogazici University in Istanbul.

Amidst the protests, the LGBTI community fell victim of days of hate speech, police violence and arrests. The situation rapidly worsened after a smear campaign over an exhibition at the university, in which a collage allegedly mixed sacred iconography with symbols supporting LGBTI issues.

This prompted the university to cancel the application of the Boğaziçi University LGBTI+ Studies Club to be officially recognised, while four students were arrested amidst an investigation over the exhibition, motivated by an alleged “public humiliation of religious values”.

As the image started circulating on social media, hundreds of hateful messages began to target our communities – including one wrote by Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, who wrote that four “LGBT perverts” had been detained. Twitter flagged the post, saying it violated its “rules about hateful conduct”, but nevertheless kept it accessible.

Mil-Diyanet Sen, a union for employees of the Directorate of Religious Affairs, issued a statement saying they had petitioned the Interior Ministry for the closure of all LGBTI associations and a complete ban on their activities.

Meanwhile, protests against the arrests happened in Istanbul and in Izmir, where a solidarity protest ended up in 27 persons being detained. Further clashes erupted at the Boğaziçi  university after the weekend, when protesters demanded also the release of the four students. A total of 159 people ended up being detained, in a move that raised concerns globally. During the arrests, a police officer was reported shouting “You insolent, look down” to the students– an invitation to which protesters responded online with the hashtag #AşağıBakmayacağız (We will not look down).

Solidarity with LGBTI communities erupted on social media around the hashtag #LGBTİHaklarıİnsanHaklarıdır (LGBTI rights are human rights), and LGBTI organisations issued a powerful statement:  “Those of us who struggle against all kinds of attempts to humiliate, embarrass, and criminalise LGBTI people, #WeWillNotLookDown, just like we don’t in Pride marches”.

ILGA-Europe are alarmed to observe that in the past week the Turkish government has stepped up its systematic attacks on and defamation of LGBTI+ people. “We call on Turkey to respect, guarantee, protect and fulfil the fundamental rights of the LGBTI+ community without discrimination as enshrined in its Constitution and equality article therein, and ratified by human rights treaty bodies,” said ILGA-Europe Executive Director Evelyne Paradis.



More news from Europe and Central Asia

The Court of Justice of the European Union will hear the case of a same-sex couple who were refused a birth certificate in Bulgaria for their new-born daughter, as authorities claimed that a same-sex couple cannot be registered as parents.

In Spain, the Supreme Court recognised the lesbophobic harassment endured at the workplace by former police officer Sonia Vivas, and confirmed a jail sentence for two of her ex-colleagues.

In Spain, the State will have to pay compensation to a lesbian couple and a single woman who were discriminated against as they were seeking for assisted reproduction services.

LGBT+ History Month has kicked off in the United Kingdom and beyond, under the theme “Body, mind, spirit”: click here to access free resources.




Australia: Victorian parliament passes bill banning ‘conversion therapies’

‘Conversion therapies’ will soon be banned in the state of Victoria, Australia, as a bill to sanction these unscientific and discredited practices was passed by Parliament.

The Victorian Legislative Council passed The Change Or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020  with 27 to 9 votes in favour, with bipartisan support and without amendments to the proposal that passed in the Lower House in December 2020.

The bill, which will now go to the Governor for Royal assent before being enforced, makes it illegal for anyone to offer or subject someone to or advertise ‘conversion therapies’ in all settings, including health and religious organisations. Anyone who would subject a person to such ‘practices’ could face up to ten years in jail and a fine.

“The passing of this legislation sends a strong message that fear-mongering and the spreading of misinformation – which LGBTQA+ people have been forced to endure every time protective or equalising legislation has been debated –  will no longer fool, or be accepted by, the Australian public,” said Nathan Despott from survivor-led advocacy group Brave Network.


More news from Oceania

ILGA Oceania is organising a virtual LGBTQI+ Law and Reform Symposium to hear the rainbow activist voices of the Pacific, and better-understand what they identify as the most pressing issue for their communities.

A new rule went into effect in Australia, allowing gay and bisexual men to donate blood after three months of celibacy.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, New Zealand Post has issued a special stamp to celebrate Pride month and mark the 35th anniversary of the passing of the Homosexual Law Reform Act that decriminalised same-sex relationships.



North America and the Caribbean

Canada: Quebec Court rules in favour of trans, non-binary, and intersex rights

The Quebec Superior Court released a long-awaited ruling that is considered the most wide-reaching case to date for the rights of trans, non-binary and intersex people and their families in Canada, regardless their citizenship.

According to reports, the decision indicates that people have the right to obtain birth, marriage, civil union or death certificates without their sex being mentioned; non-binary people have the right to update their gender marker to something other than “male” or “female”; and non-Canadian citizens in Quebec have the right to change their names and gender markers in the same manner of Canadian citizens.

While minors between 14 and 17 have the right to see their gender legally recognised without an attestation from a health professional, the ruling also establishes that parents have a right to change their designation on their children’s birth certificate if they choose to update their gender marker.

The Center for Gender Advocacy, one of the plaintiffs, described the decision “a historic victory”, even if the judge did not agree with all of the demands that were presented in the case. “The struggle for justice and the achievement of full legal protection for intersex, trans, and non-binary people is a continuing one, and much work remains to be done.”


More news from North America and the Caribbean

Half of US states fail to offer basic protections for our communities, according to a Human Rights Campaign study that looked at state-level policies impacting LGBTQ people and their families.

In Florida, United States, the agency that enforces state civil rights law has affirmed that discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity is illegal.

In the state of New York, United States, the governor signed legislation repealing portions of a law – known as the ‘Walking While Trans’ ban – that led to arbitrary and discriminatory policing of trans women.




Egypt extradites young trans woman to Cyprus

Tina, a young trans woman from Cyprus who had been arrested and detained in Egypt, has returned home. She was extradited “after a year living in a holding cell with no medication, proper nutrition and no access to sunlight,” Accept Cypus reported, and following a petition that demanded Egypt to send her back home.

Tina was arrested in January 2020 and sentenced for three years in prison on the charge of promoting and inciting debauchery online, and her appeal was later rejected. Ever since the moment of the arrest, she had been in solitary confinement – something that continued to take a very serious toll on her mental and physical health. She was reportedly denied access to hormones, in addition to being locked up alone in a small cell in a country whose language she does not speak.

After one year, Tina was able to return to Cyprus, where she will finish serving her sentence. “Although we are very happy, we will keep fighting for the human rights of trans people that are disproportionately affected by inequalities and discrimination,” Accept Cyprus commented. “This case highlights the urgent need for the existence of a legal gender recognition law”.


More news from Africa

A man in South Africa whose husband died tragically in Zanzibar, Tanzania reported being ignored and humiliated by local authorities, as they failed to recognise his marriage, delayed the repatriation of the remains, and ignored his requests to be sent the autopsy report for months.

UNAIDS conducted an HIV estimation workshop in the Central African Republic to better elaborate a response strategy amidst the resurgence of armed conflict. A 2019 survey showed that the HIV prevalence among key populations is almost twice to five times higher than their peers.



Latin America and the Caribbean

As Brazil celebrates Trans Day of Visibility, reports cast a light on trans lived realities in the country

January 29 marked Trans Day of Visibility in Brazil, commemorating the anniversary of the launch of the first campaign against transphobia in the National Congress.

On this day, a lawmaker announced a bill that would require large companies to reserve 3% of their jobs for trans employees, a step he said would help trans people escape poverty and marginalisation.

Meanwhile, human rights organisations have taken the occasion to celebrate the work of trans activists in the country, but also to point out the excruciating toll that transphobia keeps taking over the community in Brazil.

A report launched by Associação Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (Antra) showed that 175 trans and gender diverse persons were murdered across Brazil in 2020. While numbers might be much higher, as there is no official government data on the issue, these horrific figures speak of one reported murder every two days, in a situation that has worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic, and that is most likely to affect trans persons between the age of 15 and 29.

During the week leading up to Trans Day of Visibility, three trans women of colour who were recently elected as city councillors in São Paulo reported escaping violence: shots were fired against the houses of Carolina Iara and Samantha Sosthenes, while Erika Hilton had to go into hiding when a man who had previously sent her threatening letters came looking for her.

“When we dare to leave corners, jail, anonymity, or sex work, we are the target of a hate that has no explanation,” said Hilton. “This shows the importance of our trans visibility, and of looking at the reality of trans persons in Brazil”.


More news from Latin America and the Caribbean

In Guatemala, the Human Rights Ombudsman warned of an “upsurge” in murders of LGBT people, after at least five cases were reported in January 2021.

Marriage equality has now become a reality in Tlaxcala, Mexico as the bill passed by parliament in late 2020 has now been published in the Official Periodical.

A newspaper in Guadeloupe has caused outrage over a title deliberately mixing homosexuality and paedophilia.



Singapore: three persons arrested during anti-discrimination protests

Three persons have been arrested in Singapore as they were peacefully protesting anti-trans discrimination outside the Ministry of Education (MOE).

The protest started after a student’s post went viral on social media, in which she wrote about being unable to begin hormone replacement therapy due to intervention from the MOE – an interference that made it impossible for her to receive a doctor’s referral letter.

Human rights organisations have urged authorities to unconditionally end any judicial harassment against the protestors. “We call for the Government of Singapore to respect and protect the right to peaceful assembly for all, and for the MOE to swiftly act on the discrimination against transgender and LGBT students in schools and universities,” ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, ARROW and Forum Asia wrote.

A report presented on the occasion of Singapore’s Universal Periodic Review in 2020 noted that 77.6% of out trans students lived negative experiences in educational settings, and that less than a third reported feeling felt safe in schools. “The MOE must ensure that educational institutions are equipped to provide an affirming and supportive environment for all gender-diverse students that not only affirms their existence, but also affords a safe space for dialogue”, the organisations pointed out.


More news from Asia

Organisations from across Asia working on SOGIESC issues have joined forces to “strongly condemn the military coup in Myanmar”, which “jeopardises and threatens to reverse” the involvement of civil society “towards a diverse, inclusive and participatory democracy”.

South Korea is planning to expand the legal definition of family for civil and welfare regulations, but same-sex couples have reportedly not been included in the proposed update.

(trigger warning) In Pakistan, six men have been charged after a horrific video of them beating up a trans person was shared on social media, and was met with public outrage.

Taiwan is exploring legal options to allow their citizens to marry their Chinese same-sex partners, after it recently approved an amendment paving the way for same-sex marriages between its citizens and foreign spouses.


Photo of the week


Activists from across the world mourned the sudden death of Maria Sundin, a pioneer human rights defender from Sweden whose work has been crucial to advance trans rights in Sweden, in Europe and globally. She was 75 years old. Read more

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