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Latin America trans rights movement seeks advances, setbacks

Central and South America is a patchwork of progress and setback on LGBTQ issues

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Colombia is among the countries in Latin America that have extended rights to transgender people in recent years. Discrimination and violence based on gender identity nevertheless remains commonplace throughout the region. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Editor’s note: Michael K. Lavers will be on assignment in Latin America from Sept. 19-Oct. 4. He will be traveling to Honduras, El Salvador, Panama, Colombia and Chile.

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Torrential downpours were flooding roads and causing massive traffic jams in the Chapinero area of the Colombian capital shortly after 6:30 p.m. on March 7 when a handful of people were gathered inside the small office of Fundación Grupo de Acción y Apoyo a Personas Trans, a trans advocacy group known by the acronym GAAT.

They were talking about ways to identify trans people as the downpours continued to flood the streets around the building. Transsexuals and cross-dressers are among the words to which they referred, but GAAT Executive Director Laura Weinstein pointed out their meaning can prove complex.

“One of the problems that we have is how to precisely identify (ourselves),” she told the group, which included trans men and women who live in different Bogotá neighborhoods.

How to identify oneself is among the myriad problems trans advocates in Colombia and across Latin America face.

Situation for trans Salvadorans ‘very delicate’
Activists across the region with whom the Washington Blade has spoken since the beginning of the year say violence based on gender identity remains a serious issue.

Three trans women were killed in San Luis Talpa, El Salvador, in February. Stacy Velásquez of Organización Trans Reinas de la Noche, a Guatemala City-based group that advocates on behalf of trans sex workers, in that same month highlighted to the Blade the case of a trans woman who fled to Guatemala after a gang member tried to slit her throat.

Diana Sacayán, a prominent trans rights advocate in Argentina, was stabbed to death in her Buenos Aires apartment in October 2015. Francela Méndez, a former board member of Colectivo Alejandría, a trans Salvadoran advocacy group, was killed a few months earlier while she was visiting a friend at her home in Sonsonate, El Salvador.

Diana Sacayán, a transgender rights advocate from Argentina, first row, left, takes part in a roundtable on LGBT
rights in Havana in May 2015. She was stabbed to death in her Buenos Aires apartment a few months later. (Photo courtesy of Francisco Rodríguez Cruz/Paquito el de Cuba)

A trans sex worker in Cuba was reportedly stoned to death by a group of six teenagers in the province of Pinar del Río in April 2015. The videotaped torture and murder of Dandara dos Santos in the Brazilian city of Fortaleza in February sparked widespread outrage and highlighted the brutal violence based on gender identity that remains commonplace in the country.

Statistics from the Brazilian Secretariat of Human Rights indicate more than half of the 300 reported LGBT murder victims in the country in 2012 were trans, with roughly 52 percent of them people of color. A report the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released in 2014 indicates the average life expectancy of trans people in the Western Hemisphere is between 30-35 years.

“The situation of our trans community is very delicate,” Odaly’s Araujo, a trans woman who lives in the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador, told the Blade earlier this month. “We are being killed by the violence that exists in our country.”

Génesis Rafael, general coordinator of Colectivo Hombres XX, a trans advocacy group in Mexico City, noted to the Blade that three trans people were killed last October in the Mexican capital.

“Trans women are more visible,” said Rafael. “Having changed one’s name is no guarantee for getting a job, a place to live and even riding the subway or going to the bathroom.”

Advocates in Honduras, El Salvador and other countries with whom the Blade has spoken said they have been harassed and even receive death threats. They also said discrimination based on gender identity in employment, education, health care and other sectors remains commonplace.

“There is a double morality,” Agata Brooks, a transsexual woman in the Dominican Republic who was born in the Bahamas,” told the Blade late last month in an email. “Many are only looking for trans people in secret in order to satisfy their sexual desires, but they are the first to point you out in public.”

Araujo told the Blade there is a lack of educational opportunities in El Salvador for trans women, noting they “must dress as a man” if they want to go to high school or attend university. Tatiana Piñeros, a trans woman who ran Bogotá’s social welfare agency under former Mayor Gustavo Petro’s administration, said discrimination based on gender identity forces trans people to drop out of school.

“They are not prepared for life,” she said.

Lack of education, employment forces trans women into sex work
Piñeros and others with whom the Blade spoke said many trans women become sex workers because they lack formal education and employment opportunities.

“They are less accepted socially, suffer more rejection,” said María Fernanda Martínez of Caribe Afirmativo, a Colombian LGBT advocacy group, on March 14 as she and the Blade walked through the old city of Cartagena in which trans sex workers typically work. “We see that it is not normal in Colombia to find a trans woman working in a formal job.”

Martínez told the Blade that many trans sex workers in Cartagena are attacked and killed, noting one could no longer work after she underwent back surgery. She also said local police officers either don’t investigate attacks against sex workers or use anti-LGBT slurs against them.

A trans activist in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, with whom the Blade spoke in February said police officers — along with gangs — frequently target trans sex workers for extortion and violence. The activist, who asked the Blade not to publish their name because they have been the target of two assassination attempts over the last two years, said those who publicly criticize the police or gangs are threatened and often go into hiding.

“Police officers, soldiers are the ones who violate our rights,” said the activist.

Elected officials raise trans community’s profile
Advocates have celebrated a number of legislative and political advances in the region in spite of persistent violence and discrimination based on gender identity.

Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay and Mexico City are among the jurisdictions in which trans people can legally change their name and gender without undergoing sex-reassignment surgery. Chilean lawmakers continue to consider a bill that would allow trans adults to legally change their name and gender without surgery and without going before a judge.

El Salvador’s criminal code includes enhanced penalties for hate crimes based on gender identity, but advocates with whom the Blade has spoken say authorities are reluctant to apply them. The Honduran constitution bans anti-LGBT discrimination, but activists insist these protections have had little impact.

Mexico City’s nondiscrimination law includes gender identity. The Mexican capital also allows trans people to legally change their gender without a court order.

Luisa Revilla in 2014 became the first openly trans person elected to public office in Peru after she won a seat on the local council in La Esperanza. Tamara Adrián and Diane Rodríguez were elected to the Venezuelan National Assembly and the Ecuadorian Congress in 2015 and earlier this year respectively.

Tamara Adrián is the first openly transgender person elected to the Venezuelan National Assembly. She is among those who attended the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute’s International LGBT Leaders Conference that took place last December in D.C (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Kendra Stefani Jordany in March became the first openly trans person to ever win a primary election in Honduras. She was among the list of 20 candidates for the Central American Parliament who advanced to the country’s November general election, but she will not appear on the ballot because the party of which she is a member reorganized itself.

Rihanna Ferrera is running for a seat in the Honduran Congress. She would make history as the first openly trans person elected in the Central American country if she wins in November.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londoño, commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, last November signed a peace agreement that specifically acknowledges the LGBT victims of a war that lasted more than 50 years.

“The big challenge is how do we implement the agreements,” Weinstein told the Blade during an interview at her Bogotá office. “LGBT people are here.”

Bolivia is among the 18 countries that allow trans people to serve in their respective armed forces.

Cuba provides free sex-reassignment surgeries through its national health care system. Leodan Suárez, a trans woman from the province of Pinar del Río, and other advocates who work independently of Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro who spearheads LGBT-specific issues as the director of the country’s National Center for Sexual Education, point out only a few dozen surgeries have been performed since the policy took effect in 2008.

“(The Cuban government) is the first one to discriminate against us,” Suárez told the Blade earlier this month, referring to similar comments she said she made to an Argentine journalist. “It doesn’t give us the chance to work to better ourselves.”

Lulu, a drag queen in Santiago, Cuba, poses after she performed at a public art and fashion show on May 6, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Marcela Romero, regional coordinator of the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Trans People, which works throughout the region, told the Blade earlier this month during a telephone interview from Buenos Aires there have been “setbacks in regards to human rights” in Argentina and other countries in “which the LGBT community has gained very strong visibility and (trans-friendly) laws.” Romero added the Roman Catholic Church, gangs, conservative lawmakers and governments and other groups continue to influence people’s transphobic attitudes that she says contribute to violence and discrimination.

“It is very complicated,” she said. “Latin America has not yet had a streak of freedom and rights.”

Southeast Asia

New Indonesia Criminal Code to criminalize sex outside of marriage

Country’s revised Criminal Code will take effect in three years

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Indonesia's new Criminal Code that lawmakers approved on Dec. 6, 2022, would criminalize sex outside of marriage. (Bigstock photo)

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Lawmakers in Indonesia on Tuesday approved a bill that would criminalize sex outside of marriage.

The Jakarta Post, an English newspaper in the country’s capital, noted the marriage provision is part of a revised Criminal Code that would, among other things, also make it illegal to insult the president. The Jakarta Post said anyone, including foreigners, who have sex outside of marriage could face up to a year in jail.

The new Criminal Code — which LGBTQ+ and intersex activists and other human rights groups have criticized — will take place in three years.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations are decriminalized in most of Indonesia, but officials in Aceh province in 2021 caned two men under Shariah law after their neighbors caught them having sex. The Indonesian government in recent years has faced criticism over its LGBTQ and intersex rights record.

Authorities in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, in 2017 arrested 51 people who were attending a “gay party” at a sauna. The closure of an Islamic school for transgender people in the city of Yogyakarta in 2016 also sparked outrage.

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights, had been scheduled to visit Indonesia this week. She cancelled her trip after the Indonesian Ulema Council, the country’s most prominent Islamic group, criticized it.

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Southern-Central Asia

Pakistani cinema and television highlights LGBTQ+, intersex issues

Government sought to ban ‘Joyland’

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The Pakistani government sought to ban "Joyland" in the country. (Promotional poster for "Joyland")

LAHORE, Pakistan — There are several Pakistani movies and television shows that depict the lives of LGBTQ+ and intersex people in society.

Though some media outlets have become more inclusive, the representation of queer people on screen is still too rare. Pakistan has seen a rise in the production of LGBTQ+ and intersex movies and television shows that include dramas, documentaries and web series. Some of them are made in Pakistan, while others are produced abroad. Many of them have been released in Pakistan. The government banned some of them, but others have not only amused audiences but won international awards.

Here is a list of some of them. 

‘Joyland’

“Joyland” is a Pakistani film that made waves at the Cannes Film Festival. 

The film follows the story of a Transgender woman named Biba, who is trying to make a living as a dancer in Lahore. She faces many challenges in her life, including discrimination and violence from those who do not accept her gender identity. She nevertheless persists, despite these difficulties, and ultimately finds love and acceptance from unexpected sources. This heartwarming film highlights the struggles and triumphs of the trans community in Pakistan and is sure to resonate with viewers around the world. “Joyland” is a powerful and timely film that highlights the struggles of Trans people in Pakistan. It is also a celebration of hope and friendship, and an uplifting story about chasing your dreams against all odds.

In a conservative Pakistani family, the youngest son Haider (Ali Junejo) is expected to produce a baby boy with his wife. However, he joins an erotic dance theater and falls for the troupe’s director, a Trans woman. This film tells the story of the sexual revolution in Pakistan and their struggle against traditional gender roles and expectations. 

“Joyland” is the first Pakistani film on the LGBTQ+ topic that premiered at Cannes Film Festival and received an overwhelming response. It won the prestigious Cannes “Queer Palm” award during its world premiere. The government had tried to ban the film, but it opened in the country last month. 

‘Poshida: Hidden LGBT Pakistan’

In the conservative, Muslim-dominated country of Pakistan, homosexuality is a taboo topic. However, there is a thriving LGBTQ+ and intersex community in Pakistan that is forced to live in secrecy. The documentary “Poshida: Hidden LGBT Pakistan” shines a light on this hidden community. 

It follows the lives of several LGBTQ+ and intersex Pakistanis, who bravely share their stories. The documentary was released in 2015 in Pakistan and in the U.K. by director Faizan Fiaz. It was the first kind of movie on the “LGBTQ” topic. The film was screened at film festivals in Barcelona, Spain, and in the U.S. The word “poshida” means “hidden” in Urdu. The film is particularly timely given the current global discussion around LGBTQ+ and intersex rights. It examines the legacy of colonialism, class structures and the impact of the U.S. government’s gay rights advocacy in Pakistan. 

The documentary is about a serial killer from Lahore who kills Trans people, women and gay men for entertainment purposes. Human rights abuses of Trans men and women are also explored in the documentary. 

‘Churails’

Pakistani cinema has come a long way in recent years, tackling several taboo subjects and exploring new genres and stories. One of the most groundbreaking Pakistani films of recent years is “Churails.”

The film is the first Pakistani queer web series that revolves around four women. It is the first time that a lesbian relationship in any Pakistani film or web series is portrayed.

This film features a Trans woman Baby Doll (Zara Khan), lesbian lovers Babli (Sameena Nazir) and Pinky (Bakhtawar Mazhar) and a gay husband. Four women who were students — one was a wedding planner, the third one was convicted of a crime and the fourth woman was a socialite set up a secret detective agency in Karachi. The aim was to launch a detective service for those women who were cheated by their husbands. 

A web series set in Karachi challenges the status quo and subverts the conventional narrative. The critically acclaimed web series has opened up a debate about Pakistan’s patriarchal society. The show doesn’t shy away from tough questions: Veils, deception and secrets. “Churails” is the story of four self-made women who come together to break certain stereotypes and challenge societal hypocrisy. 

“Churails” is the first Pakistani drama web series which was released in 2020 by ZEE5, an Indian on-demand video platform. The web series is directed and produced by Asim Abbasi. The film was not allowed to screen in Pakistani cinema or channels. The movie was only available on ZEE5. however, at the time of releasing the film the state bank of Pakistan ordered all the banks to block Pakistani consumers to purchase subscriptions to ZEE5. 

“Churails” won the “OTT Platform Show of the Year” at the British Asian Media Awards in February 2021. “Churails” is a feminist film in every sense of the word. 

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Russia

Russian Duma sends new anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda law to Putin

With Putin’s signature, Russian LGBTQ+ people “will cease to be publicly known” effectively driving them underground

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (Screenshot from Russian State Media)

UPDATED Monday December 5 from the Associated Press:

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday signed a law that significantly expands restrictions on activities seen as promoting LGBT rights in the country.

MOSCOW – The Upper Chamber of the Russian State Duma (Parliament) voted Wednesday approving legislation banning LGBTQ+ propaganda as well as materials that promote discussion of gender reassignment and mention of LGBTQ+ to minors, which is categorized as promotion of paedophilia. Violation of the ban will result in fines of up to 10 million rubles.

The legislation now heads to Russian President Vladimir Putin who is expected to sign it within the next few days. Russian State Media outlet RIA News (РИА Новости) reported the new ban on LGBTQ+ propaganda, gender reassignment and paedophilia will apply to films, books, commercials, media publications and computer games.

The legislation broadens the scope of the existing “Protecting Children from Information Advocating a Denial of Traditional Family Values,” statute signed into law by Putin on June 30, 2013.

That statute amended the country’s child protection law and the Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses, to prohibit the distribution of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships” among minors.

The definition includes materials that “raises interest in” such relationships, cause minors to “form non-traditional sexual predispositions”, or “[present] distorted ideas about the equal social value of traditional and non-traditional sexual relationships.”

Businesses and organizations can also be forced to temporarily cease operations if convicted under the law, and foreigners may be arrested and detained for up to 15 days then deported, or fined up to 5,000 rubles and deported.

The new law will  extend “responsibility for propaganda of LGBTQ+ people among adults,” in addition to the earlier law regarding minors.

The language of the bill also introduces a ban on issuing a rental certificate to a film if it contains materials that promote non-traditional sexual relations and preferences is established. The document also provides for the introduction of a mechanism that restricts children’s access to listening to or viewing LGBTQ+ information on paid services. 

The newly expanded law provides for the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, abbreviated as Roskomnadzor, to be vested with the right to determine the procedure for conducting monitoring on the Internet to identify information, access to which should be restricted in accordance with the federal law on information.

A requirement is also set on paid services to enter codes or perform other actions to confirm the age of the user. At the same time, access to LGBTQ+ information is prohibited for citizens under 18 years of age.

In addition, it provides for a ban on the sale of goods, including imported goods, containing information, the dissemination of which provides for administrative or criminal liability. 

Also, the law “on the protection of children from information harmful to their health and development” is supplemented by an article on the promotion of non-traditional sexual relations, pedophilia and information that can make children want to change their sex.

The latter language pointedly inserted as transgender people have been a frequent target of attacks by the Russian president in speeches recently blaming the West for a global decay in moral values that run counter to what Putin describes as “Russia’s strong morals.”

Human Rights Watch noted that given the already deeply hostile climate for LGBTQ+ people in Russia, there will be uptick in often-gruesome vigilante violence against LGBTQ+ people in Russia—frequently carried out in the name of protecting Russian values and Russia’s children.

Legal scholars say the vagueness of the bill’s language gives room for government enforcers to interpret the language as broadly as they desire, leaving members of the Russian LGBTQ+ community and their allies in a state of even greater fear and stress filled uncertainty.

The English language Moscow Times newspaper and webzine, which publishes outside of the Russian Federation to avoid censorship, ran an article Friday reporting on St. Petersburg LGBTQ activist Pyotr Voskresensky, who in an act of defiance opened up a small “LGBTQ museum” in his apartment prior to Putin’s signing the measure into law.

“The museum is a political act,” said Voskresensky. “As this era is coming to an end, I felt I wanted to say one last word.”

Voskresensky — who has spent years acquiring Russian-made statues, jewelry, vases, books and other art objects that tell stories about the country’s LGBTQ+ subculture — decided this was his last opportunity to share his collection with ordinary people he told the Times.

For safety reasons, the museum’s location has not been made public: hopeful visitors must contact Voskresensky via Facebook to receive the address.  

On a recent tour, the first thing visible to visitors at the entrance was a portrait of composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, one of the most famous gay men in pre-revolutionary Russia. 

At the end of the exhibition, there were a few contemporary art pieces, including a satirical model depicting Russian parliamentary deputy Vitaly Milonov, a prominent supporter of the anti-gay legislation, wearing a bridal veil. 

Anti-LGBTQ+ lawmaker and parliamentarian Vitaly Milonov
(Courtesy of Pyotr Voskresensky via The Moscow Times)

In a phone call with the Blade on Saturday, a young Russian LGBTQ+ activist, who asked to not be identified for fear of Russian government reprisals, and who has communicated with the Blade previously from their Helsinki, Finland safe space, reiterated:

“These [Russian obscenity] politicians want to so-called “non-traditional” LGBTQ+ lifestyles erased out of public life. They and their so called colluders in church are ignorant of truth that LGBTQ+ people will exist no matter what. It is scientific fact not their religious fairytales and fictions.”

The activist also noted that with Putin’s signature, Russian LGBTQ+ people “will cease to be publicly known” effectively driving them underground. “Those bastards have tried to make us erased- they stupidly think we no longer [will] exist” The activist angrily vowed; “we are not disappeared- never. We are human and we are natural and they will not defeat our humanity.”

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Middle East

Far-right Israeli politician vows to cancel Jerusalem Pride parade

Avi Maoz rebuked by Benjamin Netanyahu

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Avi Maoz (Screen capture via i24NEWS English YouTube)

JERUSALEM — A far-right Israeli politician on Wednesday said the country’s new government should not allow the annual Jerusalem Pride parade to take place.

Walla News Diplomatic Correspondent Barak Ravid noted Avi Maoz, a member of the Israeli Knesset who is a member of the far-right Noam party, told the Olam Katan newspaper the incoming government needs “to cancel the Jerusalem Pride parade.”

“It’s a disgrace,” said Maoz. “I am as serious as I can be. It didn’t come up in the coalition agreement, but I am not hiding, I want it cancelled.”

President Isaac Herzog has asked Netanyahu to form a government after his Likud Party won the election that took place on Nov. 1. Maoz’s party is among those that could form a coalition government with Netanyahu as prime minister.

WDG, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Israel, previously reported Maoz promotes an anti-LGBTQ agenda based on the preservation of family values.

Ravid noted Netanyahu has said the Jerusalem Pride parade “will continue.”

“My government will not harm the rights of the LGBT community or any of Israel’s citizens,” said Netanyahu. 

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Southern-Central Asia

India Supreme Court chief justice seen as LGBTQ ally

Chandrachud has been expressing his observations and opinions on the issue of LGBTQ rights in India, even when he was not the chief justice

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DY Chandrachud, Chief Justice of India (Screenshot/YouTube NDTV 24-7 News)

NEW DELHI – The struggle for equality in the world’s biggest democracy took a giant step forward in 2018 with the decriminalization of homosexuality, but the fight is not over.

Though homosexuality is now decriminalized in India, same-sex marriage is still not legalized. In other words, same-sex couples can love but cannot marry. The pain in the community is visible. Since same-sex marriage is not legally recognized, it affects a spectrum of rights available to heterosexual couples that include the transfer of property and access to medical facilities.

Several marriage equality cases have been filed in the Delhi High Court and in other courts across the country.

Two petitions filed by gay couples came to the India’s Supreme Court on Nov. 25 asking for recognition of same-sex marriage under the Special Marriage Act, 1954. A bench led by the new Chief Justice D. Y. Chandrachud issued a notice to the federal government and the attorney general and posted the matter for further hearing after four weeks.

Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC), a public sector insurance company under India’s Finance Ministry, last month appeared to recognize a same-sex couple who lives in Kolkata. The arrival of the Supreme Court’s new chief justice is an additional ray of hope for the country’s LGBTQ and intersex community.

On many occasions, Chandrachud has signaled his support for the community. For instance, while speaking at the British High Commission in New Delhi, the Indian capital, on Aug. 31, Chandrachud said that decriminalization of homosexuality alone cannot achieve equality, and it must extend to “all spheres of life,” including home, workplace, and public places.

Chandrachud has been expressing his observations and opinions on the issue of LGBTQ rights in India, even when he was not the chief justice but a Supreme Court judge. Chandrachud, while speaking at the British High Commission event, which focused on the future of the country’s LGBTQ and intersex rights movement, said society owes a debt of gratitude to every individual who formed and continues to form a part of the struggle for equality.

“Perhaps, we need a little more than love,” highlighted Chandrachud at the New Delhi event while calling for structural change in society to let the LGBTQ community live a life of autonomy and dignity.

The Supreme Court in 2018 struck down the law decriminalizing homosexuality. Chandrachud was on the Supreme Court in 2018 when it decriminalized homosexuality between consenting adults and recognized sexual autonomy as a basic right of individuals.

“While the decision in Navtej was momentous, we have a long way to go. The Beatles famously sang ‘All you need is love, love; Love is all you need.’ At the risk of ruffling the feathers of music aficionados everywhere, I take the liberty to disagree with them and say – perhaps, we need a little more than love,” highlighted Chandrachud. “At the heart of personal liberty lies the freedom to choose who we are, to love whom we will, and to live a life that is true to our most authentic selves, not only without the fear of persecution but in full-hearted joy and as equal citizens of this country.”

Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India was the historical judgment that struck down the criminalization of homosexuality in India.

“The accomplishment of this simple yet crucial task would breathe life into the decision in Navtej,” said Chandrachud. “It is not merely the black letter of the law that these changes must take place in, but in the heart and soul of every Indian. Heteronormativity — in every sense of the word — must give way to a plurality of thought and of existence.”

Chandrachud in August said that justice can quickly be undone if people do not continue with the right discourse to safeguard the interests of marginalized groups. Chandrachud also highlighted in the same event that the decriminalization of homosexuality is not sufficient for members of the LGBTQ community to realize their rights. He was referring to the withdrawal of an advertisement of Karva Chauth featuring same-sex couples.

Karva Chauth is the Indian festival celebrated by Hindus in northern India in which wives keep a day-long fast for their husbands and perform rituals for the long life and well-being of their husbands.

The advertisement showed female couples celebrating Karva Chauth, and faced backlash over the internet and immediately firm withdrew it. Meanwhile, the marriage equality case the Supreme Court heard on Nov. 25 and Chandrachud’s position as chief justice has brought renewed hope among LGBTQ and intersex activists and the broader community.

“It is heartening that D.Y Chandrachud was recently appointed as the Chief Justice of India. His opinions on abortion, privacy, women’s entry into the Sabarimala temple, adultery, and gay rights (to name a few) have been progressive and brought about much-needed change,” said Kanav Narayan Sahgal, communications manager at Nyaaya, Vidhi Center for Legal Policy. “With an uncooperative central government, and a largely conservative society, the ball is now in the hands of the Supreme Court.”

Ankush Kumar is a freelance reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion

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Asia

Japanese court: Ban on same-sex marriage constitutional

“I hope there will be legislative debate about this,” said plaintiff Shizuka Oe. “We will keep making efforts”

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Screenshot/YouTube Reuters/SCMP

TOKYO – A district court in the Tokyo Prefecture ruled on Wednesday that the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage is legal. The court added that the absence of a legal system to protect same-sex families infringed upon their human rights.

In a statement to Reuters, Nobuhito Sawasaki, an attorney for the plaintiffs told the wire service, “This is actually a fairly positive ruling,” said Sawasaki who added, “While marriage remains between a man and a woman, and the ruling supported that, it also said that the current situation with no legal protections for same-sex families is not good, and suggested something must be done about it.”

This past June in Osaka Prefecture, the district court in that jurisdiction said that the country’s ban on same-sex marriage was not unconstitutional. The case had been filed by three same-sex couples – two male, one female, and is only the second legal challenge to have been filed in Japan. 

In March of 2021, the Sapporo District Court issued its ruling the country’s constitution does not ban same-sex couples from legally marrying and ensures them a right to marry. Under current Japanese law, same-sex couples are banned from legally marrying, which means partners cannot inherit each other’s assets upon death and have no parental rights over the other’s child.

In the Sapporo case, Nikkei Asia reported three couples — also two male and one female tried to register their marriages in 2019, but local officials turned them away.

The couples sued and the court ruled the government’s actions violated two provisions of the Japanese Constitution: Article 14 that ensures the right to equal treatment and Article 24, which does not expressly deny the right of marriage to same-sex couples.

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said the issue needs to be carefully considered, his ruling Liberal Democratic Party has disclosed no plans to review the matter or propose legislation, though some senior party members favour reform.

An opinion poll by the Toyoko Prefecture late last year found some 70% of people were in favour of same-sex marriage.

Reuters reported that the Tokyo ruling promises to be influential as the capital has an outsized influence on the rest of Japan.

Gon Matsunaka, head of the activist group Marriage for All Japan told Reuters “This is hard to accept. Both heterosexual and same-sex couples should be able to benefit equally from the system of marriage, as everyone is equal under the law,” he said and added. “It (the ruling) clearly said that is not possible.” Yet the recognition that same-sex families lacked legal protections was “a big step” he noted.

Reuters reported that two more cases are pending in Japan, and activists and lawyers hope an accumulation of judicial decisions supporting same-sex marriage will eventually push lawmakers to change the system, even if this is unlikely soon.

“I hope there will be legislative debate about this,” said plaintiff Shizuka Oe. “We will keep making efforts.”

Tokyo court ruling upholds ban on same-sex marriage:

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Southeast Asia

Lawmakers in Singapore repeal country’s colonial-era sodomy law

Constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman approved

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Singapore skyline (Public domain photo)

SINGAPORE — Lawmakers in Singapore on Tuesday repealed a colonial-era law that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations.

The Straits Times newspaper notes 93 MPs voted to repeal Section 377A of the country’s penal code after 10 hours of debate that spanned two days. A constitutional amendment that ensures marriage remains defined between a man and a woman also passed on Tuesday with 85 MPs voting in favor of it. 

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in August announced his country would decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

The city-state’s Court of Appeal in February upheld a lower court decision that dismissed three lawsuits against Section 377A of the country’s penal code. Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam a few months later told the BBC his country will not prosecute anyone under the colonial-era law.

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Africa

Kenyan LGBTQ+ rights groups honor Transgender refugees, asylum seekers

Event coincided with the Transgender Day of Remembrance

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The Refugee Trans Initiative and Entrepreneur Empowerment and Advocacy Health used the Transgender Day of Remembrance to honor Transgender refugees and asylum seekers in Kenya. (Photo courtesy of Entrepreneur Empowerment and Advocacy Health)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Two LGBTQ+ rights groups in Kenya this month used the Transgender Awareness Week and the Transgender Day of Remembrance to honor transgender refugees and asylum seekers in the country. 

The Refugee Trans Initiative and Entrepreneur Empowerment and Advocacy Health on Nov. 20 hosted an event in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital. It did not take place in the Kakuma refugee camp; but former residents who now live in Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa attended. 

“The event was to celebrate Trans Awareness Week for Trans refugees and asylum seekers and we invited other individuals who are part of the 2SLGBTQIA+ refugee community,” Entrepreneur Empowerment and Advocacy Health Director Vanilla Hussein. “We had time to reflect on the memory of our friends we have lost and most recently Francis, who was murdered in Uganda.”

Hussein said the conditions in Kakuma made it unsafe for the group to hold an event in the refugee camp.

Two gay men in March 2021 suffered second-degree burns during an attack on Block 13 in Kakuma, which the U.N. Refugee Agency created specifically for LGBTQ+ and intersex refugees. One of them died a few weeks later at a Nairobi hospital. 

A report the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration and Rainbow Railroad released in May 2021 indicates nearly all of the LGBTQ+ and intersex people who live in Kakuma have experienced discrimination and violence because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. UNHCR in a statement after the March 15, 2021, attack noted Kenya “remains the only country in the region to provide asylum to those fleeing persecution based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression,” even though consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

“Trans refugees continue to live in appalling conditions due to poor welfare, lack of access to jobs, affordable healthcare and opportunities in Kenya,” said Hussein. “Currently, some trans refugees and gender non-conforming refugees lack proper documentation.”

Hussein further noted NGOs “are not funded by the donors adequately because of bureaucratic hurdles and requirements to access funding such as bank statements, which have made it hard to get access to funds that can provide food, shelter, and relief emergency assistance.”

“To sum up, Kenya remains a threat to the 2SLGBTQIA+ community due to transphobia and homophobia,” said Hussein.

Alvin Mwangi, a reproductive rights activist, stressed Trans people simply want basic human rights.

“Basic human rights are not special rights, the right to get and keep a job based on merit is not a special right, the right to be served food in a restaurant is not a special right, the right to have a roof over one’s head is not a special right, the right to walk down a street and not be attacked because of who you are and whom you love is not a special right,” said Mwangi. 

“The government of Kenya should ensure its laws and systems protect Transgender persons just like any other citizen of Kenya against all forms of violence and discrimination,” added Mwangi. “The government of Kenya should commit to end all forms of violence and discrimination against Transgender persons, by publicly condemning any major instances of homophobic and transphobic violence that occur in the counties and in the country in general.”

Mwangi also stressed Trans people are “beautiful” and “deserve love.”

“We all have the right to live with dignity and respect,” said Mwangi. “As we just marked and celebrated the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which memorializes victims of transphobic violence, and as we continue to celebrate Transgender Awareness month until the end of November, we remember those in the Transgender community who have lost their lives due to violence brought by hate and ignorance and we honor, celebrate and advocate for the respect of the rights of Transgender and gender diverse communities.”

“All Transgender persons have a right to equality and freedom from discrimination of all forms. All Transgender persons require equal protection against any form of violence,” added Mwangi. “The right to equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Daniel Itai is the Washington Blade’s Africa Correspondent.

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Russia

Russian Duma’s lower House passes anti-LGBTQ propaganda law

The legislation still needs the approval of the upper House and President Putin- introduces an expanded “all ages” anti-LGBTQ propaganda ban

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Russian State Duma (Госуда́рственная ду́ма) parliament building Moscow (Photo Credit: Russian Government)

MOSCOW – A new law which expands Russia’s “gay propaganda” law signed by Russian president Vladimir Putin in June 2013 passed the lower House of the State Duma (parliament) on Thursday.

The legislation, which still needs the approval of the upper House of the Duma and President Putin, introduces an expanded “all ages” ban on “propaganda of non-traditional relations,” paedophilia, as well as a ban on the dissemination of information about LGBTQ people in the media, the Internet, advertising, literature and cinema. 

The language of the bill, according to the official Russian state news agency TASS, also introduces a ban on issuing a rental certificate to a film if it contains materials that promote non-traditional sexual relations and preferences is established. The document also provides for the introduction of a mechanism that restricts children’s access to listening to or viewing LGBTQ+ information on paid services. 

The newly expanded law provides for the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media, abbreviated as Roskomnadzor, to be vested with the right to determine the procedure for conducting monitoring on the Internet to identify information, access to which should be restricted in accordance with the federal law on information.

A requirement is also set on paid services to enter codes or perform other actions to confirm the age of the user. At the same time, access to LGBTQ+ information is prohibited for citizens under 18 years of age.

In addition, it provides for a ban on the sale of goods, including imported goods, containing information, the dissemination of which provides for administrative or criminal liability. 

Also, the law “on the protection of children from information harmful to their health and development” is supplemented by an article on the promotion of non-traditional sexual relations, pedophilia and information that can make children want to change their sex.

The latter language pointedly inserted as transgender people have been a frequent target of attacks by the Russian president in speeches recently blaming the West for a global decay in moral values that run counter to what Putin describes as “Russia’s strong morals.”

In an October speech announcing the illegal annexation of four Ukrainian territories, Putin attacked the Western nations on the issue of gay and transgender rights.

“Do we want children from elementary school to be imposed with things that lead to degradation and extinction?” he asked. “Do we want them to be taught that instead of men and women, there are supposedly some other genders and to be offered sex-change surgeries?”

It’s not just the Russian leader. Patriarch Kirill, head of the powerful and influential Russian Orthodox Church, portrayed the war with Ukraine as a struggle seeking to reject Western values and LGBTQ+ pride parades.

Vyacheslav Viktorovich Volodin, the Chairman of the State Duma and a former aide to Putin, is one of the bill’s sponsors. Volodin told TASS that the bill is “adopted exclusively in the interests of all Russians.”

“We have a different path, our grandfathers, great-grandfathers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers chose it. We have traditions, we have a conscience, we have an understanding that we need to think about children, families, the country, to preserve what we handed over by the parents,” Volodin said.

A spokesperson for Human Rights Watch told the Blade this expansion of the 2013 “gay propaganda” law “is a classic example of political homophobia. It targets vulnerable sexual and gender minorities for political gain.”

A young Russian LGBTQ+ activist, who asked to not be identified for fear of Russian government reprisals, spoke to the Blade from Helsinki, Finland, regarding this latest effort by the so-called conservative “family values” politicians in the Duma.

“This is a distraction to avoid the real news of dead young Russian males killed in his illegal war in Ukraine,” they said. “These [Russian obscenity] politicians want to so-called “non-traditional” LGBTQ+ lifestyles practised by lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people out of public life- make us erased. They and their so called colluders in church are ignorant of truth that LGBTQ+ people will exist no matter what. It is scientific fact not their religious fairytales and fictions.”

The activist also told the Blade they had fled to avoiding the Russian military draft enacted by Russia to replenish the levels of combat troops fighting in Putin’s illegal war, in the face of mounting casualties and wounded soldiers.

HRW noted that given the already deeply hostile climate for LGBTQ+ people in Russia, the organization warned there will be uptick in often-gruesome vigilante violence against LGBTQ+ people in Russia—frequently carried out in the name of protecting Russian values and Russia’s children.

Legal scholars say the vagueness of the bill’s language gives room for government enforcers to interpret the language as broadly as they desire, leaving members of the Russian LGBTQ+ community and their allies in a state of even greater fear and stress filled uncertainty.

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European Union

Belgian Parliament approves a ban on conversion therapy

“Belgium is a pioneer in the field of LGBTQ rights- but a ban [on conversion practices] was sadly missing from our legislative arsenal”

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Federal Parliament of Belgium, Palace of the Nation Brussels (Photo Credit: Federal Parliament of Belgium)

BRUSSELS – The Federal bicameral Parliament of Belgium approved a ban on the practise of conversion therapy according to the State Secretary for Gender Equality, Equal Opportunity and Diversity Sarah Schlitz.

The Brussels Times, an English-language Belgian news website and magazine, reported that in a press statement Schlitz said: “Belgium is a pioneer in the field of LGBTQ rights. Numerous legislative reforms and social efforts bear witness to this, but a ban [on conversion practices] was sadly missing from our legislative arsenal,” Schlitz said in a press release.

The Brussels based non-profit educational think tank association, Centre Permanent pour la Citoyenneté et la Participation, noted in a May 2022 report that the practices, which are aimed at changing or removing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, can take many forms ranging from the discussion table to drug treatments or exorcism sessions.

The Centre found that overall the affect of conversion therapy had long term damaging affects. The report went on to note that conversion therapy practices are “deceptive, ineffective and dangerous” practices that aim to change, suppress or eliminate the sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression of LGBTQ people.

Methods range from psychotherapy and electroshock therapy to beatings and even “corrective rape.” They can take place in religious, medical or sectarian environments, can be carried out by relatives or pseudo-professionals and have terrible consequences for the people who undergo them, The Brussels Times reported quoting the findings.

“The opportunity to be yourself and the freedom to live the way you want is a fundamental principle of our society that must not be compromised under any circumstances,” Schlitz said. “This prohibition is a powerful act to protect the victims from this symbolic, psychological and sometimes physical violence.”

The Times went on to report that anyone caught practising and violating the ban may be facing imprisonment of one month to two years and/or a fine of €100 to €300.

The language of the law also specifies that [the court] will also take into account whether the offence was committed by a person in a recognised position of trust, authority or influence over the victim and whether the offence was committed against a minor or a person in a vulnerable situation.

Suggesting or inciting conversion practices, directly or indirectly, will also be penalised. The court will be able to prohibit people convicted of conversion practices from carrying out a professional or social activity related to the commission of these offences for a maximum period of five years, the Times noted.

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