Two weeks in LGBTI news
3 - 16 April 2020
Written by Kellyn Botha
Edited by Daniele Paletta
This edition of the LGBulleTIn has taken the biggest news of the past two weeks from each of ILGA World’s chapter regions, and - as it is often the case - unfortunately there are stories of state violence against our communities.
In Indonesia, police have opted not to charge a group of men who burned a trans woman alive with murder, while police in the Philippines have posted videos online in which they humiliate and degrade LGBT people breaking curfew. However, some regions also brought stories of accountability and change, as in Peru where the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has released a scathing ruling against the state and local police who tortured a trans woman in 2008.
Another legal battle which began 2008 may soon come to a close as well, as South Africa’s Constitutional Court is set to rule on whether a journalist’s homophobic newspaper article should be considered hate speech. And both the United States and Australia, have been reviewing their policies to loosen blood-donation restrictions on men who have sex with men amidst rising concerns about blood supplies during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.
Read this week's news from...
This is a brief selection of news showing how Covid-19 is affecting LGBTI communities worldwide. Share more stories at [email protected]
Europe and Central Asia
Poland: Parliament debates regressive abortion and sex-education laws during national lockdown
The Polish Parliament has opted to debate two controversial bills to restrict access to abortion and inclusive sex education while the country is in lockdown due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Initially introduced in 2018 and 2019, both bills were met with widespread protest, which put off their adoption. Some activists now fear that the government is attempting to push the legislation through during the lockdown when the public is unable to mobilise and gather. During the first reading, the majority of MPs directed the proposals for further works in the committees: the bills could now be proceeded at any time.
“Given its track record of undercutting the rule of law, it is fitting that the government would move to pass abusive laws when the public demonstrations that have met these laws before are prohibited,” said Hillary Margolis, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
The “Stop Abortion” bill further restricts the already limited access to abortions, which in Poland are currently only permitted in cases of rape, danger to the mother’s life or health, or when there is severe damage to the foetus. The latter category will be removed under the bill, meaning that foetuses unlikely to survive will need to be carried to term. Activists from across the region have decried this as a violation of reproductive rights, though President Andrzej Duda has stated his support for this move.
The “Stop Paedophilia” bill would criminalise “anyone who promotes or approves the undertaking by a minor of sexual intercourse or other sexual activity”, though advocacy groups have criticised it for its potential to undermine comprehensive sex education and discussions of LGBTI issues. Local advocacy group, Kampania Przeciw Homofobii (KPH), has stated that the bill is backed by a group of religious fundamentalists who have linked LGBTI identities to paedophilia in previous campaigns.
KPH added that despite the current restrictions on movement and gatherings in Poland, communities are already protesting the move from their balconies, while out buying food, and online.
“We have been and will be ready to act,” they said. “Authorities, we are watching you!”
More news from Europe and Central Asia
The Italian Court of Cassation has ruled against two women who sought to be listed as co-mothers on their child’s birth certificate. The court ruled that only the woman who gave birth to the child can legally be considered the mother, though an appeal has been sent to the European Court for Human Rights.
A new report has found that LGBTQ school pupils in the Netherlands have been facing rising levels of discrimination over the past five years. 2-3% of pupils said they had quit their schools due to discrimination, though the figure sat at 8% for LGBTQ school-goers.
In the Western Balkans and Turkey, advocacy group LGBTI ERA launched its guidelines to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as an advocacy tool for the advancement of LGBTI rights in the region.
63 Members of the European Parliament have co-signed a letter urging the Hungarian Minister of Justice to revoke Article 33 of the recent bill which discriminates against trans and intersex people.
Latin America and the Caribbean
IACHR finds Peru responsible for anti-LGBTI torture and discrimination
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) has declared Peru responsible for the violation of the rights of a trans woman who was illegally detained and assaulted by police in 2008.
Police detained the woman - who at the time self-identified as a gay men - without cause, beat her, insulted and shouted at her because of her identity, and then raped and tortured her. Upon being released the victim filed a complaint against the perpetrators, though her case was dismissed, forcing her to approach the IACHR for redress.
Ruling the attack a hate crime, the IACHR further found that the state “did not act with due diligence to investigate sexual torture, violating the rights to guarantees and judicial protection,” and ordered the government of Peru to adopt wide-ranging measures to better protect the rights of people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.
This is the first time that the IACHR has considered a case of discriminatory torture and has been hailed as a major win for human rights defenders in the region.
“This ruling is extremely significant because it establishes very clearly the obligations of States to protect LGBTI people against acts of violence based on prejudice motivated by sexual orientation and gender expression,” said Chris Esdaile, Legal Advisor at REDRESS, the organisation which had been providing legal support to the victim. “It provides key parameters to identify if torture has been committed for discriminatory reasons, as well as important standards for the authorities to investigate these cases effectively.”
More news from Latin America and the Caribbean
The Colombian capital of Bogotà has announced that in order to limit the number of people out in public during the Covid-19 pandemic, men and women will be required to shop on alternating days. By Mayoral decree, trans residents will be allowed to go out on days “according to their gender identity." Despite the provision, however, numerous reports of police violence against trans and gender diverse persons kept emerging.
In Brazil, the Supreme Federal Court has been hearing a case on whether to maintain a ban on psychologists practicing “conversion therapy”. Currently the ban does not extend to religious ministries, per ILGA World’s ‘Curbing Deception 2020’ report.
United States: US relaxes MSM blood-donation limitations, though confusion among donors remains
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced the reduction of the blood-donation deferral period from one year to three months for men who have sex with men (MSM), people with tattoos, travellers from regions with a high prevalence of malaria, and women who have had sexual contact with MSM, citing the “unprecedented challenges to the US blood supply” during the coronavirus pandemic. This means that gay, bisexual and other MSM will no longer need to abstain from sex for the full twelve-month period before being eligible to donate blood.
Recent reports, however, indicate that numerous gay men and MSM continue to be turned away by blood-donation services despite the FDA stating that the new policy could be adopted with “immediate effect”. One would-be donor in California said: "I hadn't had sex in the past three months," but “the computer rejected my eligibility to donate and I was told 'you have to remain abstinent from male to male sex for at least one year to be eligible to donate.'”
"I was so upset," said another man in New York on his experience. "I genuinely want to be able to contribute to help somebody and right now they're basically putting out messages that they need blood that there's shortage of blood. But at the end of it, they sent me home."
Blood donation services from across the country have stated that these and other deferrals are due to them not having received amended application forms, and not having had the time to train staff and update their procedures. Linda Goelzer, a spokesperson for one such centre in Dallas, Texas, has called it “unfair” that they are being blamed for the delays when “every blood centre in the country has been advocating for these changes”.
“We have to go through some very rigorous protocols to make these changes so that we can still keep safety in the blood supply and in the process," said Goelzer. "When the FDA says the word 'immediately' that means something totally different in our world. It takes about three months to implement this stuff but [the FDA] is relying on us to communicate that to the public."
More news from North America
In the United States, the Governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, has signed into law multiple bills which add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s existing non-discrimination and hate crime laws; repeals the state’s statutory ban on marriage equality; eases the requirements for updating gender markers and birth certificates; and offers a non-binary option for drivers-licence applicants.
In Georgia, United States, police have been heavily criticised for trawling through a dating app to entrap and arrest queer men suspected of drug possession.
In the United States, Phyllis Lyon, a widely-known lesbian activist, has passed away at 95. Lyon had begun organising for LGBT rights in the 1950s and remained vocal her entire life. She became one of the first lesbian women in California to be legally married and was a driving force behind countless advocacy campaigns and proposed legislation.
A trans activist in Canada has filed a complaint against local police who repeatedly misgendered her when she was concerned for the safety of a friend. She stated that police assumed her friend was a sex worker because she was trans, and implied that she “shouldn’t be in that profession” if she wanted to remain safe.
Australia: Blood-donation limitations for MSM loosened, pending government approval
Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has formally revised its policy on the blood donation deferral period from twelve months down to three for men who have sex with men (MSM), sex workers, and donors who have had sexual contact with a number of “high risk” groups.
Formerly any MSM wishing to donate blood would have to abstain from sex with other men for a year before being eligible to do so, due to fears around the transmission of HIV. But before the new policy can be implemented by the country’s blood donation agency, Australia Red Cross Lifeblood, the decision will need to be approved by Commonwealth, state and territory governments.
“This decision is an important improvement that better aligns Australia’s blood donation policy with scientific evidence,” said Darryl O’Donnel, CEO of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO). “This decision brings us in line with comparable nations such as Canada, and the United Kingdom.”
Various groups, including AFAO, did however question the rationale of excluding men using pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and other HIV-preventing medicines from the policy, while others have criticised the new three-month deferral period given that sexually active heterosexual donors are rarely required to abstain from sex in this way.
Local LGBTIQ group just.equal’s spokesperson, Rodney Croome, has said that the three-month deferral “will not significantly increase the amount of safe blood available for transfusion,” and that the system should cater to individual circumstances. “We urge the TGA and the Red Cross Lifeblood service to adopt a new policy of screening all donors for the safety of their sexual activity rather than the gender of their sexual partner.”
More news from Oceania
In Aotearoa New Zealand, the national blood service has stated that it will not amend its 12-month deferral period for MSM blood-donors as Australia and the United States have done, saying that a policy review would likely not be ready to submit findings before 2021.
The Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga have all been hit by Cyclone Harold over the past two weeks, destroying numerous buildings across the Pacific and killing at least 30 people. There are concerns that this disruption will also hinder efforts to combat Covid-19,as communities take shelter together. ILGA World is thinking of its member organisations and rainbow communities in the Pacific during this time.
Indonesia: Police will not charge group that burned trans woman alive with murder
Police in Indonesia have said that they will not bring murder charges against a group of men who assaulted a trans woman before dousing her in petrol and burning her. Rather, authorities will pursue a charge of aggravated assault, which holds a maximum penalty of twelve years.
Budhi Herdi Susianto, the North Jakarta police chief, stated that the victim was accused of theft but that the group did not intend to burn her. A friend of the woman has alleged that it was premeditated, however.
Usman Hamid, the Indonesian representative of Amnesty International, has criticised the police force’s “lacklustre” response, saying that “police need to take investigative actions that are impartial and independent. They can’t seem like the perpetrators’ lawyers.”
“We still maintain that what the suspects did was carry out a despicable murder,” added Usman.
Organisations across the region have held memorials and candle-lit vigils for the woman and continue to call on greater action from authorities.
“Her death should be a reminder to many Indonesians that transgender women deserve justice and equal rights,” said Andreas Harsono, a researcher at Human Rights Watch. Harsono added that the incident is indicative of the rising hostility toward LGBT people in Indonesia.
More news from Asia
Police in the Philippines have been forcing groups of LGBT people to do push-ups, dance, and kiss one another on digital livestreams as punishment for allegedly breaking the country’s Covid-19 curfew regulations. Human rights defenders have spoken out against the “humiliation” and called on authorities to investigate.
Asia’s first LGBTI video streaming platform, GagaOOLala, has announced it will expand from the 21 countries where it currently operates to around 190, as people all over the world find themselves at home during the Covid-19 pandemic.
South Africa: 2008 homophobic hate speech case to be settled in Constitutional Court
South Africa’s Constitutional Court is slated to make the final ruling on a case of alleged hate speech by former journalist, John Qwelane, which has been sparking debate across the country for twelve years. In 2008, Qwelane published an op-ed entitled ‘Call me names, but gay is not okay’, in which he compared same-sex sexual activity to bestiality and urged politicians to remove the sexual orientation equality clause from the constitution.
After a complaint was laid by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), Qwelane was found to be guilty of hate speech and in breach of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (PEPUDA).
However, in 2019 the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled PEPUDA to be “vague”, and argued that the law infringed on peoples’ right to freedom of expression. The ruling against Qwelane was struck down and Parliament ordered to amend the law in order to align itself with constitutional rights. The case was thus referred to the Constitutional Court, which will hear the matter on 7 May.
Qwelane’s lawyers argue in papers filed to the Constitutional Court that, per existing legislation, the article cannot be considered hate speech as it does not call for “violence or harm against a group” and that “simply causing hurt or offence is not enough.”
More news from Africa
Pan Africa ILGA has released a statement of solidarity with Sexual Minorities Uganda after authorities arrested 23 LGBT persons who had been living in a local shelter, allegedly for breaching limitations on gatherings during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In Kenya a refugee from Uganda has taken his own life near the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ office. Some sources indicate that the individual was a member of the LGBTI community, and investigations are underway to ascertain the circumstances leading to his death.
Photo of the week
With one month to go until International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), remember that physical distancing doesn’t have to mean social distancing. Communities are more important than ever and physical distancing should mean getting socially actually closer.
May 17 will provide a key opportunity for this, and so May17.org has been compiling an open list of 'ideas for lockdown', which can be found here.
Would you like to see your organisation featured in this space of the newsletter?
Send us your photos at [email protected]!
We need your help!
If you have got news from your country on region, or have spotted studies and researches about our communities, let us know at [email protected]!
Every week, we will review your tips and consider them for publication.