The week in LGBTI news
1 - 7 May 2020
Written by Kellyn Botha
Edited by Daniele Paletta
This week saw significant progress and recognition for our communities across the globe, where even those incidences of violence and discrimination we so often face came with powerful – and in some cases tragic - responses from human rights defenders.
Activists in Namibia have worked hard to ensure the safety of a trans woman who was brutally tortured and subjected to derogatory comments online, while in Georgia another trans woman took protests to an extreme to highlight the government’s lack of support for LGBT persons and sex workers.
In Canada, the latest step in the governments reparations for historic discrimination will see a monument erected in the capital to honour members of the military discharged due to their sexual orientations and gender identities, and in Australia the advocacy work of a police officer may soon help raise greater awareness of domestic violence within LGBT relationships. Research has also shown that in Taiwan, LGBT employees are being treated better on average by their colleagues than they were four years ago, and a comprehensive survey revealing the severity of violence and discrimination against LGBT persons in Colombia has researchers hopeful that their data can help policy makers better address the needs of our communities.
As always, human rights defenders around the world gain victories and suffer setbacks in the ongoing fight to make a safer, more equal world for our communities. But outlook is key. We can despair at the hate we face, or we can push back and keep trying. As they say, every cloud has a silver lining.
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
Georgia: Trans woman and sex worker protests government inaction through self-immolation
A trans woman and sex worker set herself on fire in Georgia’s capital of Tbilisi during a public demonstration, in protest of the government’s alleged lack of support for the community during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Police quickly subdued the woman, who is currently in hospital.
“I am a transgender woman, and I’m setting myself on fire because the Georgian state doesn’t care about me,” she announced as police worked to remove her burning clothes.
According to local organisation, Tbilisi Pride, strict rules to curb the spread of the virus, including a night-time curfew, have deprived many people of all their income, with sex workers especially hard hit.
"Most of them cannot return to their homes and this creates a problem because where would you go if you don't have money and the owner is kicking you out?" said Giorgi Tabagari of Tbilisi Pride. While there are social security measures in place to provide limited payments to informal workers who can prove a significant loss of income, it is as yet unclear whether sex workers are eligible to apply for the grant.
The International LGBTQI Youth and Student Organisation (IGLYO), has issued its own statement on the matter, calling on the Georgian government to do more to support LGBTQI youth and communities during the pandemic, but has urged those sharing information about the event to be cautious.
“We do not want this tragic and desperate act to be perceived as an effective way of dealing with the situation,” said Mari Kurtanidze, IGLYO Board Member. “I want to emphasise that self-harm should never have to be resorted to as a way of protest and we should do everything to avoid this kind of instance in the future.”
More news from Europe and Central Asia
ILGA-Europe and the Network of European LGBTIQ Families Association (NELFA) have released a statement lauding the Finnish Prime Minister for her country’s new parental law, and urging the country to continue to increase support and protection for rainbow families.
In Spain, authorities have provisionally suspended two Benidorm police officers and opened a disciplinary file against them after a video surfaced showing them verbally harassing a trans woman.
The Hungarian National Blood Transfusion Service has recently made it known that the country’s “lifetime ban” on men who have sex with men (MSM) wishing to donate blood was lifted at the start of January. However, this comes against the backdrop of a proposed new law which would remove legal gender recognition for trans and intersex people, and the recent refusal of Hungarian officials to ratify the Istanbul Convention against domestic violence and violence against women.
Taiwan: LGBTQ-workers experiencing improved relations with colleagues and managers
A joint survey by the Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan and the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association has found that fewer LGBTQ people are experiencing hostility from colleagues and managers in the workplace, as compared to four years ago.
The study, which asked a range of questions to more than 2000 LGBTQ participants, found that the percentage of people facing pressure from colleagues to marry someone of the opposite sex dropped from 56.3% to 37.9% since 2016, with additional decreases in participants saying they had to pretend to be straight or who had been criticised for their gender expression at work.
It is uncertain to what degree Taiwan’s passing of its marriage equality law last year may have contributed to shifting perceptions among the public, though the survey has found that LGBTQ discrimination is far from erased from the Taiwanese workplace. Despite LGBTQ persons having legal protection against discrimination at work, almost 60% of survey participants said their companies did not treat LGBTQ-related discrimination complaints seriously.
More news from Asia
A YouTuber in Indonesia has faced widespread backlash for a prank in which he gave fake aid packages to trans women in need. Rather than food and supplies, the boxes he gave out in his videos were filled with bricks and garbage.
In South Korea, the Soongsil University Queer Club has been barred by officials at the institution from displaying banners referring to “sexual minorities”, going against recommendations by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea.
Namibia: Human rights defenders call on public to end transphobic social media posts after trans woman assaulted
A coalition of eleven Namibian and regional human rights defenders has issued a statement condemning the transphobic and homophobic responses to a viral video shared widely across the country last week, in which former presidential candidate, Frans Migub |Goagoseb tied a trans woman to a chair and attacked her with a cattle whip.
|Goagoseb and two other men have been arrested and the victim has been relocated to a safe house, but much of the online commentary around the incident demonstrated amusement at the assault and sympathy for the perpetrator.
“We commend the rapid response from the Ministries of Justice and Gender, the Namibian police and law enforcement agents for ensuring that the perpetrator and accomplices were apprehended,” said the joint statement, but adding that despite Namibia’s relatively progressive legislation “the widespread hate speech, transphobic attacks, ‘legitimisation’ and sensationalism of the tortuous act, by the community and online responses, removes the human dignity of the survivor and violates so many of the rights that we all expect for the advancement and betterment of our country.”
The coalition has called on the Namibian government to stand by its “zero-tolerance” policy for human rights violations; called on local media to report ethically and sensitively on the case; and called on the public to cease all hate speech and discrimination against the LGBTI community.
More news from Africa
Ugandan officials have refused bail for 19 persons with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities detained after a raid on the Children of the Sun LGBT centre and shelter on 29 March.
Prominent Egyptian actor, Hesham Selim, received widespread praise on social media when he appeared on a local television show alongside his trans son, speaking openly about trans identities and experiences.
A coalition of 35 human rights defenders from across the Middle East and North Africa have issued a statement to correct a widely-shared story that Tunisia has officially recognised marriage equality. The country has not adopted marriage equality laws, and the international media attention around a single “administrative mistake” has reportedly put LGBT persons under increased threat in the country, where same-sex sexual activity remains criminalised.
Australia: #ImHereForYou – 28 May to mark first LGBTI Domestic Violence Awareness Day
The advocacy work of a Queensland police officer, Ben Bjarnesen, will see 28 May marked by local groups as Australia’s inaugural LGBTI Domestic Violence Awareness Day. The new initiative, which is intended to occur annually in May – when the country marks the Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month – seeks to raise awareness for the high rates of unreported domestic violence in LGBTI relationships.
Up to 62% of LGBTI Australians are said to have experienced some form of domestic abuse, though only 6% are believed to formally report incidents to police. Thus, the initiative, which has received the support of Queensland community organisations DVConnect and the Queensland Council for LGBTI Health, has adopted the theme of #ImHereForYou to encourage survivors to reach out and seek help.
“It’s so important that people from LGBTI communities know that help is available for them,” said Bjarnesen, himself a survivor of domestic violence. “They don’t have to live with abuse and everyone, regardless of their sexuality or gender identity, deserves to live a life free from violence and abuse.”
“On May 28, tell your friends, family and LGBTI communities that you’re here for them and help raise awareness, remember the victims who’ve lost their lives, and support those in abusive relationships and those that have survived.”
More news from Oceania
In Australia the New South Wales Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (GLRL) has called on government to review and address shortcomings in the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1977.
Australia’s Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, has refused calls by conservative groups to conduct a national inquiry into gender dysphoria and gender-affirming care, after being advised by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) that the endeavour could be harmful to trans youth.
The Pacific Rugby Players Welfare (PRPW) organisation has called on World Rugby to make “urgent enquiries on the status of the investigation” into the alleged abusive and homophobic comments made by the Fiji Rugby Union Chairman, Francis Kean.
Canada: Monument to victims of “gay purge” across the military to be erected in Ottawa
Officials and advocates in Canada will build a monument in the capital of Ottawa to commemorate the LGBT service members who were expelled from the armed forces on the grounds of their sexual orientations and gender identities. From the 1950s to the 1990s, thousands of military recruits across Canada lost their jobs as part of the country’s “gay purge”, even after the partial decriminalisation of same-sex sexual activity in 1967.
“Monuments […] can unite us in grief, help us learn about our past and bring us together as Canadians,” said Heritage Minister, Steven Guilbeault. “This monument will invite Canadians to reflect on this shameful time in our history and allow us to move forward together toward a future where all Canadians are respected for who they are.”
The purge, which saw LGBT Canadians followed by investigators, spied on through their phones, and interrogated by military superiors and psychologists, was formally brought to an end in 1992 after victims took legal action against the state. In 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued an apology and the state reached a settlement with victims of the purge. Per the settlement, CAD 103 millions were set aside as compensation, and the previously classified military records relating to the mass firings would begin to be released – though only a few hundred of the 11,000 confidential pages have yet been made public.
Construction on the monument itself has not yet begun though it is expected to be finished in 2024.
More news from North America
In the United States an English teacher at an Ohio Catholic school was informed that his contract would not be renewed after he was outed in an anonymous complaint. In response, a number of students have said they will protest outside the school and have created a petition calling for him to be reinstated.
Organisations have expressed concern about a report by the Commission on Unalienable Rights In the United States, which seems to reject equal rights for people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, and limit access to reproductive health services.
The Supreme Court of the United States has started deliberating on whether workplace non-discrimination legislation should continue to apply to people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. No decision has been made, though there is hope for an announcement on Monday 11 May.
Latin America and the Caribbean
Colombia: More than a fifth of LGBT Colombians have undergone “conversion therapy”
A study helmed by the Williams Institute at UCLA, has found that 21% of LGBT Colombians have experienced some form of “conversion therapy”, with the number rising to approximately one in three for trans persons.
The report asked 4,867 people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities a range of questions on demographic characteristics, socioeconomic status, exposure to stress, discrimination, violence, and health status in order to build up a broad view of the lived realities of LGBT Colombians.
Colombia remains part of a majority of countries which have not implemented any comprehensive bans on “conversion therapies” – an umbrella term for a range of practices now known to be ineffective in altering a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and widely criticised as psychologically and physically harmful by a range of experts and human rights defenders, as noted in ILGA World’s recent world survey into such practices and laws banning them.
“As a clinical psychologist, every week I have parents who come to me with their LGBT children […] so that I can help their children become heterosexual,” said Jennifer Florez-Donado, one of the study’s co-authors, noting that some families also turn to religious leaders to cure the “illness”.
The UCLA study yielded a range of other concerning statistics as well, with 25% of participants reporting being fired on the basis of their sexual orientations or gender identities, and approximately three quarters having experienced physical and verbal abuse or bullying. As a result, a quarter of participants admitted to attempting suicide at least once, with suicidal thoughts being especially common among trans persons in the study.
“Considering the levels of violence, victimisation, and discrimination that LGBT respondents experienced, it is not surprising that respondents reported such high rates of suicidal ideation and attempts,” said Florez-Donado, though she and the other researchers are hopeful that their data could help policy makers better address the needs of LGBT Colombians. “This research shows how critical it is to develop suicide prevention and violence treatment programs for LGBT people in the country,” she said.
More news from Latin America and the Caribbean
A report out of Mexico has revealed that the country has no official statistics on homophobic hate crimes, making it difficult for human rights defenders, law enforcement and politicians to accurately assess any threats faced by our communities.
A hospital in Brazil has been ordered to pay damages to a trans patient who was mocked by two doctors and repeatedly “deadnamed” on hospital documents and by staff.
In Puerto Rico two men have been charged for the recent murder of two trans women, though the investigation remains open. Local organisation, the Comprehensive Committee for the Search for Equity (CABE), has urged the courts to not consider the death penalty for the suspects, saying that “revenge is not synonymous with justice.”
Photo of the week
As a result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, many Pride celebrations across the globe have had to be cancelled or postponed. But we will still be celebrating together - ONLINE! Global Pride 2020 is organising a digital celebration, and is calling on YOU to submit video content that reflects the true diversity of our global community. Find out more here!
(image source: Kellyn Botha - eSwatini Pride)
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