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Despite Harris deal, few surgeries granted to trans inmates in California

Campaign says anti-trans bias may play a role in implementation

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Kamala Harris, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) speaking at the HRC/CNN LGBT Town Hall on Oct. 10. (Photo courtesy of CNN)

Sen. Kamala Harris’s presidential campaign said Tuesday anti-trans bias may play a role in the implementation of a policy she helped create under pressure to provide transgender inmates in California with gender reassignment surgery, after a Washington Blade public records request found only seven prisoners ever got the male-to-female procedure out of 130 who asked.

Harris, a supporter of LGBTQ rights, nonetheless continues to be asked about her work as California attorney general in litigation seeking to deny gender assignment surgery to transgender inmates in the state prison system — and the data indicate that Harris cast the settlement in a rosier light than ended up playing out.

Despite the policy she announced in 2015 enabling inmates to obtain gender reassignment surgery, the data from California Correctional Health Care Services — provided to the Washington Blade after a request under California’s Public Records Act — reveals only a small percentage of inmates who have requested the procedure have been able to obtain it, raising questions about its effectiveness.

In a letter dated Nov. 8 to the Blade, the state prison health system reveals 130 inmates requested male-to-female gender reassignment surgery since the policy was announced, but only seven were granted the procedure in the same time period. Meanwhile, 51 inmates requested female-to-male gender reassignment surgery, but only 10 obtained the procedure.

Based on these numbers, only 5 percent of inmates who requested male-to-female gender reassignment surgery obtained the procedure under the policy Harris helped create and has promoted on the campaign trail, and only 20 percent of inmates who requested female-to-male gender reassignment surgery have obtained it.

Kate Waters, a spokesperson for the Harris presidential campaign, said anti-trans bias may be playing a role in implementation in response to a Blade inquiry on the data.

“Kamala Harris believes every American has a right to adequate and comprehensive health care, including transition-related care for those at correctional facilities,” Waters said. “Toward the end of her tenure as attorney general she worked behind the scenes to establish a policy around granting gender-affirming surgeries to individuals who are currently incarcerated — the first of its kind in the country. It’s clear the implementation of this policy should be evaluated and examined for bias.”

Very few trans inmates in California prison have been granted requests for gender reassignment surgery.

Over the course of her presidential campaign, Harris has had to defend herself amid questions about litigation in which she sought to block transgender inmates from having gender reassignment surgery. In fact, at her first news conference for her 2020 presidential campaign in D.C. at Howard University, it was the topic of her first question, which was asked by the Washington Blade.

At the time, Harris implied she disagreed with the position of her client, the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation, but defended the agency in court because it was her duty as a public official.

“I was, as you are rightly pointing out, the attorney general of California for two terms and I had a host of clients that I was obligated to defend and represent and I couldn’t fire my clients, and there are unfortunately situations that occurred where my clients took positions that were contrary to my beliefs,” Harris said.

Harris also indicated she wasn’t fully aware of the litigation happening within her office.

“It was an office with a lot of people who would do the work on a daily basis, and do I wish that sometimes they would have personally consulted me before they wrote the things that they wrote?” Harris said. “Yes, I do.”

The issue came up in an interview with the Los Angeles Blade and at the Iowa LGBTQ forum hosted by GLAAD in September, where Lyz Lenz, a columnist for the The Gazette, asked the 2020 presidential hopeful about it.

In both of those instances, Harris brought up in favorable terms a policy agreement she helped institute at the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitations as evidence she redirected the litigation into something positive for the transgender community.

“I did it quietly, because I actually disagreed with my client initially, when they had the policy, and so I did it behind the scenes,” Harris told the Los Angeles Blade. “I helped to resolve and change the policy. The issue for me was to make sure the right thing would happen.”

Harris added: “Let me just be very clear: I don’t want to take full credit for that, because I don’t deserve full credit for that. I don’t want what I said to be interpreted as that. There were a lot of people involved in that.”

In an interview with the National Center for Transgender Equality, Harris brought up the issue on her own and in particular underscored the importance of that policy.

“I made sure that they changed the policy in the state of California so that every transgender inmate in the prison system would have access to the medical care that they desired and need,” Harris said. “I know it was historic in California, but I believe, actually, it may have been one of the first if not the first in the country where I pushed for that policy in a Department of Corrections.”

As California attorney general, Harris in 2015 defended the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation, which was being sued for refusing to provide gender reassignment surgery to two transgender inmates: Michelle Lael-Norsworthy, who was serving time in prison in Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, Calif., for second-degree murder, and Shiloh Quine, who’s serving a life sentence for first-degree murder, kidnapping and robbery.

Transgender advocates maintain transition-related care, including gender reassignment surgery, is medically necessary and should be afforded to inmates in prison, where the costly procedure would be provided at taxpayer expense. Withholding the treatment, transgender advocates argue, is cruel and unusual punishment, therefore a violation of the Eighth Amendment under the U.S. Constitution.

At one point, when a trial court ruled against the state in the Norsworthy case and ordered the state to grant her gender reassignment surgery, Harris as attorney general appealed the decision to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where she continued to argue the procedure should be blocked.

Among Harris’ critics for defending the California state prison system in those cases is Chase Strangio, a New York-based transgender advocate and attorney.

“It would have been one thing had she chosen to settle a legal challenge to establish a policy that might help people in custody but that is not what she did,” Strangio told the Blade. “Instead, Harris’s office fully litigated a case to try to block care for transgender people while simultaneously implementing a supposedly improved policy, which we continue to learn is grossly inadequate.”

Strangio added Harris sought legal precedent that would have made conditions “substantially worse” for people in the Ninth Circuit and “could have hurt transgender people beyond California and ultimately sent a message to corrections staff in her state that the care being requested was not supported by the state.”

“It is impossible to know whether Sen. Harris personally agrees with the notion of providing health care to transgender people in custody but what is abundantly clear is that when she had various opportunities to take a stand to ensure that the system was improved for prisoners who are transgender she failed to act with a commitment to transgender justice,” Strangio said.

As media scrutiny of these cases continued when the case was before the Ninth Circuit, including with coverage in the Washington Blade, a settlement was announced on Aug. 8, 2015 that would enable the inmates to obtain the procedure (although for Norsworthy the process consisted of being granted parole, then being able to obtain gender reassignment surgery under the state’s MediCal program).

“Members of the LGBT community, especially those who are transgender, are too often subjected to discrimination and forced to live on the margins of our society,” Harris said at the time. “In a groundbreaking settlement, the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation has agreed to evaluate and provide sex-reassignment surgery if recommended to Shiloh Quine, a transgender inmate. This is an important step forward in the ongoing effort to protect transgender rights in California.”

As part of this settlement, the California prison system agreed to create a new policy that would ease the process for transgender inmates seeking gender reassignment surgery, enabling them to obtain it without having to win court battles.

But the new data demonstrates only a small number of transgender inmates have been able to obtain the procedure, raising questions about the policy’s effectiveness.

Asked by the Blade to review the data, Strangio said it speaks volumes about the difficulty for transgender people in obtaining transition-related care, including gender reassignment surgery, while serving time in the criminal justice system.

“Sadly, these numbers reflect how dangerously inadequate health care is for transgender people, particularly transgender women, in custodial settings,” Strangio said.

The Washington Blade has placed a request with current California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who’s responsible for enforcing the policy, on whether the guidelines are not properly being implemented.

It’s unclear why only a small percentage of these inmates have been granted gender assignment surgery. Under policy established by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, a person seeking the procedure must have medical clearance, which means they can’t have any health issues that would make the surgery pose too great a risk for the individual.

As laid out in the actual policy memo for California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation, which was most recently updated in December 2018, inmates seeking to have gender reassignment surgery have to go through a multi-step process.

An inmate’s request for surgery is submitted to the Statewide Medical Authorization Review Team, or SMART, which will then refer to the Gender Affirming Surgery Review Committee before that panel sends it back to SMART for final review.

According to the documents, factors the committee should consider when evaluating the request is a verifiable diagnosis of gender dysphoria; whether other treatments besides surgery should be considered; whether the inmate has no other health conditions the surgery would exacerbate; and if the inmate has been consistent with his or her gender identity for 12 months.

The California Department of Corrections didn’t respond to multiple requests from the Blade to comment on whether the system is adequate given the low numbers of requests for gender reassignment surgery from inmates that have been granted.

Transgender advocates, however, said the numbers are evidence the California state prison system, despite the policy Harris helped create, is woefully inadequate in providing necessary transition-related care to transgender inmates.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said the paucity of requests granted indicates transgender inmates aren’t being denied the procedure for medical reasons, but due to anti-trans animus and budgetary limits.

“It’s not about whether or not they are medically able to have the surgery, it is about the prisons and the state not wanting to do it,” Keisling said.

Strangio placed blame with both the California state prison system as well as Harris, saying regardless of the role she had in crafting the guidelines, the data show “it is not a policy that is adequately being implemented.”

“It is impossible to extricate the ongoing recalcitrance on the part of the agency from the message sent from the state’s highest officials, Harris included, that providing health care to transgender people in custody should be fought aggressively in court,” Strangio said.

Keisling, however, was reluctant to criticize Harris, saying her actual role in creating the California guidelines is impossible to verify and bureaucracies have a way of stymying policies created by public officials.

“Definitely the bad guy is the Department of Corrections,” Keisling added.

Shawn Meerkamper, senior staff attorney for the San Francisco-based Transgender Law Center, also responded to the data with generalized concerns that weren’t aimed at Harris.

“Transgender people’s medical needs are real and cannot be dismissed by the state,” Meerkamper said. “California’s prisons affirmed they have the responsibility to provide medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria, including surgery, in 2015 following the Norsworthy and Quine cases. While policies are a good first step, unfortunately the California prisons continue to deny this life-saving health care to the vast majority of people who need it.”

The Transgender Law Center represented Norsworthy and Quine in litigation and hailed the settlement in 2015 when it was reached with the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation.

More recently, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a ruling that made access to gender reassignment surgery for prison inmates binding precedent in all states within its jurisdiction, including California.

In August, a three-judge panel on the Ninth Circuit issued the per curium opinion in favor of Adree Edmo, who was denied gender reassignment surgery while being incarcerated for sexual abuse at the Idaho State Correctional Institution.

“We hold that where, as here, the record shows that the medically necessary treatment for a prisoner’s gender dysphoria is gender confirmation surgery, and responsible prison officials deny such treatment with full awareness of the prisoner’s suffering, those officials violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment,” the decision says.

At the time, Harris said in a statement to the Blade she supports the ruling, maintaining it “rightly reaffirms the right to adequate and comprehensive health care, including transition-related care for those at correctional facilities.”

Despite the Ninth Circuit ruling, Strangio said denial of care to transgender inmates remains a “systemic problem across corrections systems” and requires “truly committed reformers” to make change.

But Strangio said that isn’t Harris.

“It is not enough to suggest passive support while publicly opposing humane treatment of transgender people, which is ultimately what Harris did as attorney general,” Strangio said. “As the numbers show, people are not getting the health care that they need and Sen. Harris should take responsibility for the roadblock her office was to improving life chances for transgender people across the state.”

UPDATE 11/25/2019: The California state prison system, after the initial publication of this article, responded to the Washington Blade with a statement announcing current policy on gender reassignment surgery for transgender inmates is under review.

Terry Thornton, a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation, said the prison system has several policies in place on transgender inmates and recognizes the value of gender reassignment surgery as medically necessary care.

“The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires that prisons provide medically necessary treatment for prisoners’ medical needs based on medical considerations,” Thorton said. “For the past several years, gender-affirming surgery has been increasingly viewed by the medical and mental health community as a safe and effective treatment for some people suffering from gender dysphoria.”

Key memos guiding those policies within the California Correctional Health Care Services, Thornton said, are currently under revision: The “Gender Dysphoria” care guide, last modified in May 2015, and the supplement to that care guide, “Guidelines for Review of Requests for Gender Affirming Surgery,” effective in May 2015 and revised in December 2018.

“Guidelines and supplemental documents are continuously revised to align with community standards and as needed to ensure operational efficiency,” Thornton added.

Treatment for gender dysphoria is individualized between a patient and their provider, Thornton said, and each patient is reviewed on a case-by-case basis “taking into account their medical and mental health history and current condition.”

In response to the few number of surgeries granted to transgender inmates, Thornton said a person requesting surgery may not be eligible at first, but subsequently eligible upon resubmittal. Inmates may appeal any health care decision, Thornton said, including denials of gender reassignment surgery.

Thornton identified several reasons why inmates would be denied gender reassignment surgery, including other health conditions that make the procedure too high a risk to their well-being or that must be well controlled; not meeting the WPATH criteria for the surgery; having mental health conditions that would likely worsen with surgery or impede surgical recovery; or simply completing a prison sentences and being released to parole.

“As far as we know, California is the only prison system in the United States with a process to approve gender-affirming surgeries and has policies to improve safety, help prevent sexual abuse, create a more respectful environment, improve outcomes for reentry and improve medical care for its incarcerated transgender community,” Thornton concluded.

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California Politics

Recognizing & celebrating lesbians: Mayor Pro-Tem of El Cerrito

Lesbian Visibility Week stands as a vibrant affirmation of solidarity with lesbian/queer women within the LGBTQ+ community

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Mayor Pro-Tem of El Cerrito, California, Carolyn Wysinger. (Photo Credit: Carolyn Wysinger)

EL CERRITO, Calif. – Carolyn Wysinger is a distinguished figure in both local politics and the LGBTQ+ community having risen as a prominent voice advocating for inclusivity and diversity. Her first term as Mayor Pro-Tem of El Cerrito, California is marked by a robust commitment to visibility and engagement in political arenas.

First elected to the El Cerrito City Council in 2020, Wysinger’s trajectory in politics has been underpinned by her resolve to bring LGBTQ+ voices to the forefront of decision-making. Her work emphasizes the crucial role of allies in combating anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, advocating for a political landscape that welcomes all voices, particularly those from marginalized communities.

Carolyn Wysinger shown here as the latest newly elected member of the El Cerrito City Council in 2020.
(Photo courtesy of Carolyn Wysinger)

Before venturing into politics, Wysinger made significant contributions to the cultural and educational sectors. A lifelong resident of Contra Costa and a proud graduate with a B.A. in English from California State University, Long Beach, with a M.F.A. from Antioch University, she has also been a vital part of the literary world. Her book, “Knockturnal Emissions: Thoughts on #race #sexuality #gender & #community,” provides insights into diverse identities and has been featured on essential reading lists at several universities.

Wysinger’s influence extends beyond her literary achievements. She has organized notable queer events such as LA’s NFL Sunday Funday and the Long Beach Blue Party, and she has held leadership roles with organizations such as the NIA Collective, San Francisco Pride, and the Human Rights & Relations Commission of Richmond. Her appointment to various committees, including the Economic Recovery Task Force of San Francisco and the Legislative Committee of the California Democratic Party, showcases her broad impact across social and political spheres.

Her community engagement is highlighted by her affiliations with the Sierra Club, NAACP, Black Women Organized for Political Action, and her involvement in the Philonise and Keeta Floyd Institute for Social Change. These roles reflect her deep commitment to addressing systemic inequalities and fostering community solidarity.

In addition to her political and social endeavors, Wysinger is known in her community as an educator who has profoundly impacted the lives of her students at Richmond High School, where she taught English Language Learning, African-American Literature, and led several student groups, including the Black Student Union and LGBTQ Student club.

Wysinger’s Take on Lesbian Visibility Week

In an exclusive interview with The Los Angeles Blade, Wysinger shared her robust insights on the significance of representation and the ongoing struggles and victories of the LGBTQ community during Lesbian Visibility Week.

Wysinger, a steadfast advocate for equal representation in politics, emphasized the necessity of proportional representation of women, including LGBTQ individuals and people of color. “Having a proportional amount of women represented in politics to the constituents is extremely important. We need this not only for women but for everyone in the community,” she explained, underlining the intersectionality of representation.

The current political climate has seen a surge in anti-LGBTQ laws, but Wysinger remains optimistic due to the strong network of allies within California. “It is great to know we have so many allies in California who are fighting in their respective offices to bring equity to our community,” she said.

This network includes notable figures such as London Nicole Breed, the Mayor of San Francisco and State Controller Malia Cohen, who have been pivotal allies, supporting Wysinger as a woman of color in her political journey.

Wysinger also addressed a common narrative that discourages women within the LGBTQ community from seeking elected office. She is committed to dismantling this mindset, attributing her success in leadership to the support from various political queer groups, including Equality California.

Reflecting on the evolution of LGBTQ visibility, Wysinger highlighted the stark contrast between the representation she observed growing up between the Bay Area and Louisiana and the visibility in today’s media.

“Lesbian Visibility Week is something that we did not have back in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s when we were being so heavily targeted. This week is a reminder of what we have done in the community and that we are here. It is so important to highlight the queer women who are on the front lines of what we are fighting right now,” Wysinger said.

Wysinger credits her nieces and nephews as a significant inspiration, underscoring the importance of nurturing the future generation of leaders and allies. Her message to the younger generation and to her younger self is resonant with empowerment: quoting a line from the television sitcom “A Different World,” delivered by famed Black comedian Whoopi Goldberg, Wysinger said, “You are a voice in this world, and you deserve to be heard.”

Through her leadership and advocacy, Wysinger continues to champion the visibility and representation of lesbian and queer women, paving the way for a more inclusive and equitable future.

Lesbian Visibility Week

Lesbian Visibility Week, extending the celebration from a single day that began in 2008 to a full week, stands as a vibrant affirmation of solidarity with LGBTQI women and non-binary individuals within the community. This special week  spanning April 22-28not only celebrates lesbian identity but also underscores the importance of inclusivity and support for all women, particularly those from marginalized communities.

Graphic design by Chiamaka Ejindu

The initiative for Lesbian Visibility Week was catalyzed by concerning findings from the Pride Matters survey conducted by Pride in London in 2018, which revealed that gay women are almost twice as likely to conceal their sexual orientation in the workplace compared to their gay male counterparts. This stark disparity highlights the urgent need for greater visibility and acceptance of lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer women both in professional environments and in daily life.

Organized with the support of the Diversity Umbrella Foundation, Lesbian Visibility Week aims to create a more inclusive society where LBTQ women can openly express their true selves without fear of discrimination. Whether it’s at work, at home, or in social settings, the week promotes a culture of understanding and acceptance.

The significance of Lesbian Visibility Week is also reflected in the efforts of DIVA Media Group, Europe’s leading LGBTQ media organization, which reaches an audience of 250,000 users monthly, in partnership with EL*C (Euro Central Asian Lesbian Committee), ILGA World, GLAAD, Curve and LGBT Foundation. Feedback from the community indicates a persistent feeling of being misunderstood and under-supported, further emphasizing the necessity of this observance.

Through a series of events, educational activities, and community engagements, Lesbian Visibility Week not only celebrates the contributions and diversity of lesbian women but also fosters a dialogue about the challenges they face. By doing so, it strives to be a powerful voice for unity, lifting up voices that are too often silenced and paving the way for a more equitable society.

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State Department

State Department releases 2023 human rights report

Antony Blinken reiterates criticism of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act

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WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday once again reiterated his criticism of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act upon release of the State Department’s annual human rights report.

“This year’s report also captures human rights abuses against members of vulnerable communities,” he told reporters. “In Afghanistan, the Taliban have limited work opportunities for women, shuttered institutions found educating girls, and increasing floggings for women and men accused of, quote, ‘immoral behavior,’ end quote. Uganda passed a draconian and discriminatory Anti-Homosexuality Act, threatening LGBTQI+ individuals with life imprisonment, even death, simply for being with the person they loved.”

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni last May signed the law, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The U.S. subsequently imposed visa restrictions on Ugandan officials and removed the country from a program that allows sub-Saharan African countries to trade duty-free with the U.S. The World Bank Group also announced the suspension of new loans to Uganda.

Uganda’s Constitutional Court earlier this month refused to “nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act in its totality.” More than a dozen Ugandan LGBTQ+ activists have appealed the ruling.

Clare Byarugaba of Chapter Four Uganda, a Ugandan LGBTQ+ rights group, on Monday met with National Security Council Chief-of-Staff Curtis Ried. Jay Gilliam, the senior LGBTQI+ coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, in February traveled to Uganda and met with LGBTQ+ activists who discussed the Anti-Homosexuality Act’s impact. 

“LGBTQI+ activists reported police arrested numerous individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity and subjected many to forced anal exams, a medically discredited practice with no evidentiary value that was considered a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and could amount to torture,” reads the human rights report.

The report, among other things, also notes Ugandan human rights activists “reported numerous instances of state and non-state actor violence and harassment against LGBTQI+ persons and noted authorities did not adequately investigate the cases.”

Report highlights anti-LGBTQ+ crackdowns in Ghana, Hungary, Russia

Ghanaian lawmakers on Feb. 28 approved the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill. The country’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, has said he will not sign the measure until the Ghanaian Supreme Court rules on whether it is constitutional or not.

The human rights report notes “laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults” and “crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex persons” are among the “significant human rights issues” in Ghana. 

The report documents Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and members of his right-wing Fidesz party’s continued rhetoric against “gender ideology.” It also notes Russia’s ongoing crackdown against LGBTQ+ people that includes reports of “state actors committed violence against LGBTQI+ individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, particularly in Chechnya.”

The report specifically notes Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 24 signed a law that bans “legal gender recognition, medical interventions aimed at changing the sex of a person, and gender-affirming care.” It also points out Papua New Guinea is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

The Hungarian Parliament on April 4, 2024. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his right-wing Fidesz party in 2023 continued their anti-LGBTQ+ crackdown. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Cook Islands and Mauritius in decriminalized homosexuality in 2023.

The report notes the Namibia Supreme Court last May ruled the country must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed outside the country. The report also highlights the Indian Supreme Court’s ruling against marriage equality that it issued last October. (It later announced it would consider an appeal of the decision.)

Congress requires the State Department to release a human rights report each year. 

The Biden-Harris administration in 2021 released a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad.

The full report can be read here.

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Caribbean

Dominica High Court of Justice decriminalizes homosexuality

Gay man challenged statute in 2019

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Dominica flag (Public domain photo)

ROSEAU, Dominica — Dominica’s High Court of Justice on Monday struck down provisions of a law that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations.

A gay man who remains anonymous in 2019 challenged sections of the country’s Sexual Offenses Act that criminalized anal sex and “gross indecency” with up to 10 years and 12 years in prison respectively. The plaintiff argued the provisions violated his constitutional rights. 

The Dominica Equality and Sexual Expression Association and the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality, a group that advocates for LGBTQ+ and intersex rights in the region, in a press release noted the court in its ruling affirmed “the criminalization of consensual same-sex activity between adults is unconstitutional.” The groups added Justice Kimberly Cenac-Phulgence “declared that the laws commonly known as buggery and gross indecency laws, contravenes the constitution of the Commonwealth of Dominica, namely the right to liberty, freedom of expression, and protection of personal privacy.”

“It is long past time that the dignity and dreams of all Dominicans were recognized,” said DESEA Executive Director Sylvester Jno Baptiste in the press release. “We are all God’s children, and he loves us all equally. Laws that treat some Dominicans as less than others, have no place in a just society.” 

Dominica is a former British colony that is located between Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Lesser Antilles.  

Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago in recent years have decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations. 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2021 issued a decision that said Jamaica must repeal its colonial-era sodomy law. The country’s Supreme Court last year ruled against a gay man who challenged it. 

A judge on St. Vincent and the Grenadines’s top court in February dismissed two cases that challenged the country’s sodomy laws.

“Decriminalization helps create an environment where LGBTQ individuals can live openly without fear of persecution, enabling them to access health care, education, and employment without facing discrimination,” said Outright Executive Director Maria Sjödin on Monday in response to the Dominica ruling. “The repeal of these discriminatory laws is a testament to the tireless efforts of activists, advocates, and allies who have long fought for justice and equality. It is a victory for human rights and a significant milestone in the ongoing struggle for LGBTQ rights in the Caribbean.”

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Politics

Smithsonian staff concerned about future of LGBTQ programming

Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III appeared before a hearing led by Republicans flagging concerns re: “the Left’s indoctrination of our children”

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The Smithsonian Institution, located in Washington D.C. on the National Mall, is the world's largest museum and research complex, with 21 museums, 9 research centers, and affiliates around the world. (Photo Credit: Smithsonian Institution)

WASHINGTON — Staff at the Smithsonian Institution are concerned about the future of LGBTQ programming as several events featuring a drag performer were cancelled or postponed following scrutiny by House Republicans, according to emails reviewed by the Washington Post.

In December, Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III appeared before a hearing led by GOP members of the Committee on House Administration, who flagged concerns about the Smithsonian’s involvement in “the Left’s indoctrination of our children.”

Under questioning from U.S. Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.), Bunch said he was “surprised” to learn the Smithsonian had hosted six drag events over the past three years, telling the lawmakers “It’s not appropriate to expose children” to these performances.

Collaborations with drag artist Pattie Gonia in December, January, and March were subsequently postponed or cancelled, the Post reported on Saturday, adding that a Smithsonian spokesperson blamed “budgetary constraints and other resource issues” and the museums are still developing programming for Pride month in June.

“I, along with all senior leaders, take seriously the concerns expressed by staff and will continue to do so,” Bunch said in a statement to the paper. “As we have reiterated, LGBTQ+ content is welcome at the Smithsonian.”

The secretary sent an email on Friday expressing plans to meet with leaders of the Smithsonian Pride Alliance, one of the two groups that detailed their concerns to him following December’s hearing.

Bunch told the Pride Alliance in January that with his response to Bice’s question, his intention was to “immediately stress that the Smithsonian does not expose children to inappropriate content.”

Lonnie G. Bunch III, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, appears before a Dec. 2023 hearing of the U.S. Committee on House Administration (Screen capture: Forbes/YouTube)

“A hearing setting does not give you ample time to expand,” he said, adding that with more time he would have spoken “more broadly about the merits and goals of our programming and content development and how we equip parents to make choices about what content their children experience.”

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Florida

Gov. DeSantis denounces ‘weaponization’ of book challenges

‘They’re going to be holding many teachers accountable,’ he said signing a bill restricting nonparents to 1 book challenge per month

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“Gender Queer,” a graphic memoir by Maia Kobabe, was the most challenged book in America in 2022, according to the American Library Association. (Photo by New Jersey Monitor)

By Michael Moline | TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The DeSantis administration plans to punish teachers and principals deemed to be exploiting public school book challenges to, in the governor’s view, “weaponize” Florida’s parental rights laws.

DeSantis leveled that charge Monday during a news conference in Pensacola. On Tuesday, he raised it again during a second news conference in Jacksonville, where he signed legislation restricting nonparents to one book challenge per month.

The challenges come under state law allowing anyone to complain about the content of classroom materials they deem objectionable or pornographic. The laws require removal of challenged books pending reviews that can take considerable time. DeSantis began trying to tone down the situation in February, in advance of the 2024 legislative session.

 Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses a news conference on April 16, 2024, in Jacksonville. Source: Screenshot/DeSantis Facebook

“Manny, in the Department of Education, they’re going to be holding many principals or teachers accountable who are weaponizing this,” DeSantis said Tuesday, referring to Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr.

DeSantis cited Sarasota County teachers who “papered over every book in the classroom, saying, ‘Oh! You can’t have books! The state’s not letting me show you books! That’s a lie. That’s not true. That’s performative.

“And so, that’s somebody who’s entrusted to teach kids putting their political agenda over the best interests of the students’ education and their access to learning. That’s wrong; that’s not going to stand in the state of Florida. So, we don’t have time for your activism; we don’t have time for your nonsense. We have a process in place to empower parents,” the governor said.

Teachers told the Sarasota Herald Tribune in January 2023 that they feared prosecution if they put students in contact with unvetted books.

The Phoenix asked the administration for an explanation of any investigations launched or punishment inflicted on school employees but hasn’t heard back yet.

Rebuttal

Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar issued a rebuttal in the form of a written statement.

“It’s important to remember that Gov. DeSantis’ full throated support is the reason why fringe groups who do not represent the majority of Floridians and often do not have students in the classroom have felt so comfortable removing books off shelves and making Florida the leader in the nation on book banning,” Spar said.

 Andrew Spar, president, Florida Education Association. Credit: FEA

“This rule does nothing to fix the vague language that caused the issue in the first place, no matter how much the Governor and Commissioner Manny Diaz try to shift blame. Schools, teachers, and media specialists have long been asking for guidance on this issue and once again, instead of providing students what they need, Florida’s elected and appointed officials decide to play the blame game instead of taking responsibility,” Spar continued.

The American Library Association has reported that the bulk of the book challenges nationally come from conservatives.

“Recent censorship data are evidence of a growing, well-organized, conservative political movement, the goals of which include removing books about race, history, gender identity, sexuality, and reproductive health from America’s public and school libraries that do not meet their approval,” the association says in a written statement on its website.

“Using social media and other channels, these groups distribute book lists to their local chapters and individual adherents, who then utilize the lists to initiate a mass challenge that can empty the shelves of a library,” the association continues.

Florida saw 2,672 titles challenged during 2023, it says.

Meanwhile, PEN America recorded 1,406 book ban cases in Florida during the 2022-2023 school year, which accounted for 40% of the national total.

One challenge per customer

The new law (HB 1285) restricts challenges by people without children in a school district to one per month, while parents and guardians remain free to issue unlimited challenges.

 Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. Credit: Florida Department of Education

That would still allow 12 challenges by nonparents per year, Diaz observed during Tuesday’s news conference. However, “Anyone who creates a cottage industry of going around the state and just creating challenges just to gunk up the system and put schools in arrears as far as reviewing these books, that person won’t be able to do it anymore,” Diaz said.

DeSantis complained that the news media have inflated challenges against classic books and biographies of important Americans while playing down other materials, including LGBTQ content, that he considers unsuitable for young kids or even pornographic.

“They’ve said, ‘Oh, you know, you’re not having Rosa Parks’ — and yet that’s on the summer reading list. Things about Hank Aaron, a book of the month from the Department of Education. So that’s clearly a bad-faith challenge, just trying to create a narrative,” DeSantis said.

“Some of those bad-faith actions have been done from people within the school system who are doing that to try to create a narrative. So, Manny will be able to hold those folks accountable because clearly there’s nothing in Florida law that would tell you to do that,” he continued.

Spar observed: “What Gov. DeSantis and Commissioner Manny Diaz always seem to forget when they attack public schools is that they have failed public schools through their punitive policies that have worsened the teacher and staff shortage and kept teacher and staff pay low. It is clear their political agenda is more important than the needs of Florida’s students.”

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Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal.

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The preceding article was previously published by the Florida Phoenix and is republished with permission.

The Phoenix is a nonprofit news site that’s free of advertising and free to readers. We cover state government and politics with a staff of five journalists located at the Florida Press Center in downtown Tallahassee.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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Louisiana

Louisiana’s Superintendent of Education decries new Title IX rules

“The Title IX rule changes recklessly endanger students and seek to dismantle equal opportunities for females”

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Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley being interviewed on WVLA-TV NBC 33 local news. (Screenshot/YouTube WVLA)

BATON ROUGE, La. – In a letter sent out Monday to all Louisiana school districts, state Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley warned that administrators should not comply with new federal rules that extend civil rights protections to LGBTQ+ students.

The Biden-Harris administration’s revised final rule of Title IX policy protects LGBTQ+ students from discrimination and other abuse was issued by the U.S. Department of Education last Friday.

While the new rule does not provide guidance on whether schools must allow transgender students to play on sports teams corresponding with their gender identity to comply with Title IX, the question is addressed in a separate rule proposed by the agency in April.

In his letter, reported by NOLA.com/The Advocate, Brumley said the federal rules, which take effect Aug. 1, would force schools to allow transgender girls to use girls’ restrooms and locker rooms. He also said the rules would compel teachers to call students by their preferred names and pronouns — a requirement that would appear to conflict with a bill in the Louisiana Legislature to protect teachers who refuse to refer to students by pronouns that don’t match their sex assigned at birth.

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Brumley said he believes the rules would also conflict would a 2022 state law that bans transgender girls and women from participating on female sports teams at the K-12 school or college level, NOLA.com/The Advocate reported.

“The Title IX rule changes recklessly endanger students and seek to dismantle equal opportunities for females,” he wrote in the April 22 letter.

Restating his “staunch opposition” to the federal rules, Brumley said “it remains my position that schools should not alter policies or procedures at this time.”

Jennifer Klein, the director of the White House Gender Policy Council, said during a call with reporters Thursday that the administration sought to strike a balance with respect to these issues, “reaffirming our longstanding commitment to fundamental fairness.”

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Political commentary & analysis

20 bills die as Iowa Legislature adjourns-attacks on LGBTQ+ fail

Iowa becomes the latest state to adjourn Sine Die without passing a single piece of explicitly anti-LGBTQ+ legislation

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Iowa's state capitol building in Des Moines. (Photo Credit: State of Iowa)

By Erin Reed – DES MOINES, Iowa – In the latest in a series of victories for trans and queer people in statehouses across the United States, Iowa’s legislature has adjourned sine die without passing a single piece of explicitly anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.

This is despite more than 20 bills being introduced targeting LGBTQ+ individuals, including some introduced and prioritized by the governor herself.

Other states, which have historically shown a willingness to pass LGBTQ+ legislation, have also failed in efforts to pass such legislation this year, including Florida, Georgia, and West Virginia. This is leaving some to wonder if anti-trans and anti-queer politics are beginning to run into resistance, at least in the lead-up to the 2024 election fight.

This year, Iowa was at the center of numerous debates over anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, particularly targeting transgender individuals. One bill aimed to remove transgender people from the state’s civil rights code and declare them “disabled.” 

Another proposal, known as the “pink triangle bill,” would have required special gender markers on the birth certificates and driver’s licenses of transgender people. One bill would have redefined “equal” to no longer mean “same” or “identical” for transgender people.

A further measure sought to ban transgender individuals from restrooms that match their gender identity. Nonetheless, all of these bills failed to pass as the legislature reached its closing hours.

This is not due to a lack of effort by a handful of Republican legislators who saw this as their priority issue. In the final moments of the session, sensing defeat, Republicans attempted to pass an anti-transgender birth certificate bill by introducing an amendment to ban such certificates onto a bill supporting the loved ones of fallen veterans.

Perhaps realizing that such a move would likely be seen as politically unpopular, they withdrew the amendment before the legislature adjourned.

Over 20 bills targeting the LGBTQ+ community that were introduced this year died. Counting rollover bills from the previous year, Iowa Safe Schools states that number is as high as 39 bills that have been defeated.

The only bills to pass was a broad “religious freedom restoration act,” which could allow broad discrimination against LGBTQ+ people and many other classes of people using religion as a shield, as well as a DEI ban. Though both bills have negative impacts on LGBTQ+ people, neither bill contained the targeted provisions seen in several others that were introduced this year.

Iowa has been the site of fierce resistance to anti-LGBTQ+ legislation this year. For one piece of legislation removing transgender people from the state civil rights code, over 300 people lined up in the hallway to speak out against the bill. When the bill was defeated in committee, cheers could be heard throughout the hallway.

Responding to that bills defeat at the time, Damian Thompson of Iowa Safe Schools stated, “From what I can tell, opposition was overwhelming, before the hearing, during the hearing, and after the hearing.” He later added, “This is the kind of response we need to see with every anti-LGBTQ legislation. We need the entire community united in opposition. What they are trying to do, we’ve seen it, they are trying to divide us. The LGB against the T, and it’s not going to work.”

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Crowd in opposition to HB2082 stripping civil rights from transgender people, source: Oliver Weilein

Iowa is not the only state to witness significant victories over anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-trans legislation this year. Earlier, all explicitly anti-LGBTQ+ bills—20 in total—were defeated in Florida, prompting a statement from local HRC advocates that “The tide is turning.”

Similarly, over 20 bills failed in West Virginia, leading to celebrations. In Georgia, every anti-LGBTQ+ bill also failed, despite similar last-minute attempts to amend anti-LGBTQ+ legislation into entirely unrelated bills.

Although attacks on trans and queer individuals have encountered significant obstacles in Iowa and other states historically targeting LGBTQ+ people, some states are advancing with particularly severe legislation.

These states include TennesseeAlabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, all of which have introduced bills that would ban transgender people from bathrooms, allow individuals with religious objections to adopt LGBTQ+ children, and more.

Meanwhile, Ohio is moving forward with a bathroom ban that could affect transgender adults in colleges, and Utah has already passed a sweeping bathroom and locker room ban this year. Additionally, the United States presidential election is already witnessing political attacks on transgender individuals, which may intensify in the coming months.

For transgender Iowans, however, any further attacks will have to wait until the outcomes of the 2024 election cycle are clear. Early indications from Iowa suggest that such attacks may not be politically popular in the state.

For example, Moms For Liberty candidates were defeated in 12 of 13 highly contested school board elections in the state in 2023. Additionally, Pella, Iowa—a town that favored Trump by over 35 points—defeated a local book ban.

If similar election results occur in 2024, then attacks on LGBTQ+ individuals may continue to falter in the state, giving its trans and queer residents a moment to breathe as they begin the long battle to roll back harsh laws targeting LGBTQ+ people enacted in recent years.

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Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

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The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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Africa

Ugandan Census will not count intersex people

Advocacy group report documents rampant discrimination, marginalization

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Uganda Bureau of Statistics graphic

KAMPALA, Uganda — Uganda’s national Census next month will not count intersex people.

The revelation about the exclusion of intersex Ugandans in the 9-day Census exercise that will begin on May 10 has been confirmed to the Washington Blade by the head of Uganda’s Bureau of Statistics.

UBOS Executive Director Chris Mukiza in response to the Blade’s questions on the issue said the agency has “no business with intersex.”

Their counting could have made Uganda the second African country and the third globally after Australia and Kenya to collect an intersex person’s data in a Census. 

Kenya’s 2019 Census determined there were more than 1,500 intersex people in the country.

Uganda had a population of 34.8 million, according to the country’s last Census that took place in 2014.

Intersex people in Uganda are among marginalized groups, subject to stigma and discrimination. The government has yet to recognize them as the third sex and consider them among other minority groups, such as people with disabilities, who enjoy special treatment.

Intersex people cannot be exclusively categorized as male or female for having a biological congenital condition with unique sex characteristics due to inherent and mixed anatomical, hormonal, gonadal, or chromosomal patterns that could be apparent before, at birth, in childhood, puberty, or adulthood.

Mukiza’s position of excluding intersex people in the Census, however, comes amid the prime minister’s office’s demands for inclusivity and equality for all the population. (The Constitutional Court on April 3 refused to “nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act in its totality.”)

“We recognize that much work remains to be done particularly in addressing the needs of the marginalized and vulnerable communities, promoting inclusive economic growth, and combating climate change,” said Dunstan Balaba, the permanent secretary in the prime minister’s office.

Balaba spoke on April 18 during the National Population and Housing Census prayer breakfast meeting the UBOS convened. Religious leaders and other stakeholders attended it.

President Yoweri Museveni has noted that data from the country’s sixth national Census will be crucial towards achieving the nation’s Vision 2040 and help the government, non-governmental organizations, and donors in providing services to the diverse population.

“It will also provide the basis for planning the provision of social services such as education, health, and transport, among others at the national and local level,” Museveni said as he urged citizens to fully support the Census and provide accurate information.

Uganda has an intersex rights organization, “Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development (SIPD),” which activist Julius Kaggwa founded in 2008 with the support of groups that advocate for children, women, and other marginalized populations.

Some of SIPD’s work as a non-profit, grassroots organization includes community outreach and engagement, sharing reliable information with the society for the protection of intersex people’s rights, and championing the need for organized medical and psychological support.

The organization, through its numerous reports, has decried human rights violations against intersex people that include surgery without consent, discrimination in homes, schools and medical centers, parents abandoning intersex children, and stigma due to lack of legal protection by the government.

Uganda’s Registration of Births and Deaths Act allows a parent or guardian of a child under the age of 21 to change the name or sex at the local registration office. The SIPD, however, maintains this law is discriminatory to intersex people over 21 who want to change their sex characteristics, and want parliament to repeal it. 

The intersex rights organization wants the Health Ministry to establish a central registry to register intersex children after they’re born in order to receive support in terms of healthcare, social and legal by the government and other stakeholders as they grow up. 

SIPD particularly wants the government to enact a policy that would allow a gender-neutral marker on birth certificates for intersex children to ease any change of sex in the future. The organization also wants the government, through the Education Ministry, to adopt a curriculum that also considers intersex issues in schools and creates a friendly environment for intersex children to learn and graduate like their non-intersex peers.

These demands follow SIPD’s findings that disclosed many intersex children were dropping out of school because of the stigma and discrimination they suffered. The organization has further called on the public-funded Uganda Human Rights Commission to live up to its constitutional mandates of defending human rights by leading the promotion and protection of the rights of intersex people across the country.

SIPD has also challenged religious leaders, who play a key role in Ugandan society and are influential at the local and national level, to promote acceptance of intersex people and to end discrimination against them.

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World

Out in the World: LGBTQ+ news from Europe & Asia

LGBTQ+ news stories from around the globe including Iraq, United Kingdom, Sweden, Czech Republic, Nepal & New Zealand

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

IRAQ

Iraqi protesters set fire to a rainbow-colored flag representing the LGBTQ+ community in Baghdad in front of the Swedish Embassy after a Qur’an was burned outside a mosque in Stockholm, June 29, 2023. (Photo Credit: Screenshot/Al Jazeera)

BAGHDAD, Iraq – A law is being discussed in the Iraqi parliament that would introduce the death penalty or life in prison for same-sex relations Reuters reported this week. Western diplomats have warned Iraqi lawmakers that if passed the law could have serious consequences for Iraq’s political and economic ties.

According to Reuters the measure imposes a sentence of life imprisonment or the death penalty for anyone engaging in same-sex relations or anyone who swaps their wife with someone else’s for sexual purposes. Lawmakers postponed voting over time constraints and that some disagreements remained over proposed amendments

The law contains a provision that echoes the Russian law banning the promotion of homosexuality and violations are punishable by at least seven years in prison.

UNITED KINGDOM

Tory MP Miriam Cates speaking in the House of Commons in December, 2023.
(Screenshot/Parliament TV)

LONDON, UK – Miriam Cates, the Tory MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge in South Yorkshire, took aim this week against a proposal to set up voluntary “gender and sexual orientation alliance groups” in Scottish schools that opt in. 

Speaking to GB News, Cates said: “These are children who have not been through puberty and they don’t have sexual feelings. Asking them if they are straight or gay is not only ridiculous, it is also disturbing. Why would an adult in a school be asking a small child about their sexual feelings?” She added that the scheme is “very, very worrying” and has been “dressed up to be seen as a diversity agenda, an inclusivity agenda.”

The Tory MP has a long record of anti-LGBTQ+ remarks and activism. In January 2023, after the government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced its unprecedented decision to use a Section 35 order under the Scotland Act to prevent the Scottish bill from becoming law, addressing Commons, Cates said she believed it was “​​absolutely right” for the Tory government to block Scotland’s gender reform law. 

PinkNewsUK reported Cates then claimed the bill would make it “vastly easier for a predator to gain access to children” and alleged it would have a “chilling effect” on single-sex spaces. 

PinkNewsUK also noted that the Tory MP said that this latest push to encourage schools to install gender-neutral toilets, and hold meetings about LGBTQ+ inclusion, among other initiatives in Scotland was little more than “adults with a particular ideology are pushing that ideology on children, with damaging effects.”

A Scottish government spokesperson told The Telegraph: “We are committed to doing everything we can to make Scotland the best place to grow up for LGBTQI+ young people.” The spokesperson added: “This includes funding LGBT Youth Scotland to deliver a range of projects, such as the LGBT Charter program.”

SWEDEN

Riksdag of Sweden [Parliament]
(Photo Credit: Konungariket Sveriges regering/Government of the Kingdom of Sweden)

STOCKHOLM, Sweden – The Swedish parliament has passed a sweeping gender-recognition law that eases the process for trans people to update their legal gender. The law also lowers the minimum age for a gender change from 18 to 16, although minors will be required to have the consent of their parents, a doctor, and the National Board of Welfare.

The Swedish Parliament adopted the law in a 234-94 vote Wednesday, April 17, following six hours of tense debate. The law will come into effect next July.

The law was supported by the Moderate Party, which is the largest party in the governing coalition, as well as several opposition parties. The bill was vehemently opposed by the Christian Democrats, which are part of the coalition, and the far-right Sweden Democrats, who are in allied with but not a part of the government.

Sweden became the first modern country to allow legal gender change back in 1972, but the process to do so was derided as cumbersome and dehumanizing. Trans people would be forced to live in their gender identity for at least two years before applying, they’d have to be single or divorce their spouse, and they’d have to first undergo sex reassignment surgery and sterilization. 

Roughly 800 trans Swedes are believed to have undergone sterilization under this regime before the law was changed to remove that requirement in 2013. In 2018, parliament approved a compensation scheme that awarded up to 225,000 Swedish krone (approximately US $27,000) to people forced to undergo sterilization.

But other countries have since leapfrogged Sweden in recognizing trans people’s right to gender self-determination. All of the other Nordic countries – Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland – allow trans people to update their legal gender by simple self-declaration, as do New Zealand, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, as well as many states and provinces of Canada, Mexico, and the United States.

The new law doesn’t give trans Swedes everything they had wanted. While the application process no longer requires a doctor’s diagnosis of gender dysphoria, a consultation with a doctor or psychologist is still required. Children under 16 are also prevented from changing their legal gender, even with parental consent.

The law also maintains a ban on gender-related surgeries on minors. 

Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson says that the bill will be a big help for trans people in Sweden, pitting the law as a reasonable compromise . 

“The vast majority of people in Sweden will never notice that the law changes. But for a number of people in an often vulnerable situation, the new law can make an important difference. Everyone should be able to respect that,” Kristersson wrote in the Expressen newspaper

Lina Axelsson Kihlblom, a trans woman and former minister of education from 2021-2022, the change will protect trans people’s security.

“For transgender people, it makes a huge difference to one’s freedom, security, future and sense of respect from society. We who are actually affected therefore really want a modernization of the law,” she wrote in Expresssen

“I was forcibly sterilized, aged 21. I also had to wait until I was almost 24 before my legal gender was corrected. For several years, I had risked my life by having to show ID documents that did not show what others or I myself saw. Threats, hatred and fear of the uncomprehending mob were there daily. These traumas give me an ‘experience’ that I reluctantly house within me every day, even though I have passed fifty. No one else should have to handle it,” Kihlblom says.

CZECH REPUBLIC

President Petr Pavel of the Czech Republic speaking to the European Union Parliament in October of 2023 in Strasbourg, France.
(Photo Credit: Office of the President of the Czech Republic)

PRAGUE, Czechia – The Czech senate ended debate on the same-sex partnership law without a vote, Wednesday, April 17, sending it on to President Petr Pavel, who is expected to sign it into law.

Czechia has allowed same-sex couples to enter “registered partnerships” since 2006, but these have always been seen as inferior to full marriage equality. Couples in registered partnerships were not given equal tax treatment, were not allowed to adopt children, and were not called “married” or treated as a family.

Under the new bill, “registered partnerships” will be replaced with “partnerships,” that are given all the rights of marriage except for the word “marriage,” and except for the right to jointly adopt children. The bill will come into effect in January 2025.

Going forward, couples in partnerships will have access to stepchild adoption, where one partner adopts the other’s biological child. Adopting a partner’s non-biological child will be possible but will require a court procedure.

Same-sex marriage has long been a political hot potato in Czechia. Polls consistently show the public supports same-sex marriage and adoption rights, but lawmakers are more conservative. 

This partnership bill started as a same-sex marriage bill, but the lower house of parliament amended the bill to the current version when it passed it in February. There was some concern among lawmakers that there was not enough support in either house of parliament to pass full marriage equality.

There had been some hope among activists that the senate would amend the bill to allow same-sex marriage, but that fizzled as several committees examined the bill and failed to adopt amendments. 

“We were not afraid of the discussion in the Senate, it took place powerfully in the committees. But we didn’t want things that hurt people from the LGBTI+ community to be heard again,” senator from the Pirates party Václav Láska told iDNES.cz. “There was a real risk that the law would fall under the table and the LGBTI+ community would get no rights at all. It’s a temporary compromise.”

The same-sex marriage advocacy group Jsme fér said the new partnerships bill maintains discrimination against gay people and their children.

“It does not give them the same rights as other citizens. It disadvantages children only according to the relational orientation of those who adopt them. Those children who want to be adopted by a same-sex couple will have to go through their own adoption twice,” said the Jsme fér association. “The dream goal of our journey together is still waiting for us.”

NEPAL

Photo courtesy of the Nepal Tourism Board

KATHMANDU, Nepal – The Nepal Tourism Board hosted the country’s first-ever conference dedicated to promoting LGBTQ+ tourism in the Himalayan nation this weekend, in a sign of the growing acceptance of queer people as well as the growing interest in the spending power of queer tourists.

Nepal has swiftly expanded LGBTQ+ rights since the country decriminalized gay sex and cross-dressing in 2007 in the wake of the establishment of democratic government. Since then, the courts have ordered the government to take increasing steps to promote LGBTQ+ rights and inclusion, culminating in last year’s interim Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. A final decision on same-sex marriage is expected from the Supreme Court soon. 

Nepal is only the second country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. 

For Nepal Tourism Board director Nandini Lahe-Thapa, LGBTQ+ tourism represents a huge opportunity for growth in the impoverished country. 

“For Nepal’s tourism industry, the LGBTIQ conference is a triumph as this is one of the most important market segments that we have yet to tap,” Lahe-Thapa told the Kathmandu Post.

Lahe-Thapa hopes Nepal can leverage its position as one of only a few places in the region where LGBTQ+ people are tolerated and welcomed to provide a unique travel experience for queer visitors. 

“People might feel uncomfortable sharing their identity and choices if the place and the people are judgmental and unfriendly. Here we have an advantage as a destination,” Lahe-Thapa says.

To build on that advantage, the Nepal Tourism Board has invested in ways to make the country more welcoming to LGBTQ+ travelers by training queer Nepalis to work in the hospitality industry – and particularly as trekking guides to help queer visitors access Nepal’s popular mountains. Last year, the board organized trekking guide training to 25 queer Nepalis.

There are now dozens of business across the country openly owned by members of the LGBTQ+ community, including bars, restaurants, hotels, and travel and tour operators, particularly in the bustling capital, Kathmandu.

Participants in the conference also noted that legal same-sex marriage presents a particular opportunity for the country.

“Businesses are opening up for the queer and that’s a good sign. We can promote Nepal as a same-sex marriage and honeymoon destination,” says Sunil Babu Pant, a former legislator who was the first openly queer lawmaker elected in Asia.

Conference attendees also pointed out that Nepal’s long history and diverse culture includes many LGBTQ-related traditions, which present a unique attraction for visitors. Nepal has important ancient festivals, temples, rituals, stories, and traditional culture recognizes six genders, all of which offer a unique experience for the queer traveller.

The queer market is frequently cited as being worth trillions of dollars annual across the globe, with LGBTQ+ people often seen as being more likely to spend on travel and unique experiences than most buyers. 

One of the largest segments of the LGBTQ+ tourism market is in neighboring China, where the queer population is estimated to hold hundreds of billions of dollars in wealth. Nepal is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the Chinese market, which is only expected to grow.

“One of the things that we know from Chinese gay travellers is they are looking for places they feel safe, where they can hold hands and where they can have new experiences,” says Diane Anderson-Minshall, CEO of GO Magazine, who was one of the presenters at the conference.

NEW ZEALAND

31-year-old Ford O’Connor appeared in Auckland District Court & pled guilty.
(Photo Credit: Screenshot/Television New Zealand/TVNZ1) 

AUCKLAND, New Zealand – One of the men accused of defacing a Pride-flag themed crosswalk in Auckland’s central business district has pled guilty to the crime and was ordered to pay a huge fine in restitution, RNZ reported.

The Progress Pride Flag themed crosswalk on Karangahape Road in the heart of Auckland’s queer neighborhood was painted over in the middle of the night on March 27, by vandals who were recorded dumping white paint over it and mopping it over the crosswalk to cover it nearly completely. Much of the white paint was subsequently washed off by rain and traffic.

Video of the vandalism was shared to the Tiktok account @aucklandcitynight00. Police quickly identified the vandals by recognizing unique markings on their truck.

It was the second rainbow crosswalk to be vandalized that week, after vandals targeted a crosswalk in Gisborne, about 300 miles southwest of Auckland, two days earlier. Police were able to apprehend several suspects in that incident.

31-year-old Ford O’Connor appeared in court April 15 to plead guilty to the Auckland vandalism and was ordered to pay NZ$16,093 (approximately US$9,475) in reparations.

Both sets of vandals were affiliated with the extremist Divinity Church, a Christian cult led by Brian Tamaki with around 1700 members, according to the latest New Zealand census. Tamaki preaches a far-right political ideology alongside anti-LGBTQ+ messages.

Tamaki later told a press conference that O’Connor is married to his granddaughter. Tamaki had previously denied his Church’s involvement in the Auckland vandalism.

Tamaki has also claimed that the vandalism of the Pride crosswalks was not a hate crime, and that he supported the vandalism as an act of protest against “rainbow washing” at the taxpayer’s expense.

New Zealand does not have hate crime laws that impose stiffer penalties on hate-motivated crimes, although police do track them. The vandalism had been tracked as a hate crime.

The church has recently taken particular issue with drag queen story events at public libraries, leading at least one library to cancel an event due to security concerns raised by the threat of Divinity Church protesters.

Auckland Transport says the Pride flag crosswalk is expected to be restored within the month.

Global LGBTQ+ news gathering & reporting by Rob Salerno with additional reporting from PinkNewsUK.

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Politics

600+ national polls shows Biden & Trump are tied

The 2024 national popular vote polling average between Biden and Trump is a significant indicator of the political divide

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Then President Donald Trump debating Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden on Sept. 29, 2020. (Screenshot/YouTube PBS News Hour)

WASHINGTON – As the 2024 election contest heats up in a presidential race that is seeing a rematch between Republican frontrunner former President Donald Trump and incumbent Democratic President Joe Biden, the divide in the American nation is a nearly dead even between the two candidates according to The Hill.

The 2024 national popular vote polling average between Biden and Trump is a significant indicator of the political divide. As of Sunday Trump led with a polling average of 45.3% to Biden’s 44.4% with Trump having only a 0.9% lead based on over 600 polls. The majority of the polls were conducted between April 1 and April 19 the Hill reported.

Trump, who is standing trial on low level felony charges this week and next in New York City over his alleged payment of hush money to an adult film actress during the 2016 campaign race for the White House has not seen a dip in polling as a result of that and other criminal trials he faces.

Biden on the other hand is still not resonating well with independent and younger voters angered with his support of Israel over the ongoing war in between Hamas and Israel and his handling of the economy which is still confronting high prices, inflation, and astronomical housing costs. The president is also under fire for the handling of the migrant crisis on the Southern border.

Factoring into the race is the emergence of the third party candidacy of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., which the latest national NBC News poll shows the third-party vote — and especially Kennedy— cutting deeper into former President Donald Trump’s support than President Joe Biden’s, though the movement the other candidates create is within the poll’s margin of error.

Trump leads Biden by 2 percentage points in a head-to-head matchup, 46% to 44%, in the new NBC News poll. Yet when the ballot is expanded to five named candidates, Biden is the one with a 2-point advantage: Biden 39%, Trump 37%, Kennedy 13%, Jill Stein 3% and Cornel West 2%.

The big reason why is that the poll finds a greater share of Trump voters in the head-to-head matchup backing Kennedy in the expanded ballot. Fifteen percent of respondents who picked Trump the first time pick Kennedy in the five-way ballot, compared with 7% of those who initially picked Biden.

For a complete breakdown by poll and analysis, explore Decision Desk HQ and The Hill’s coverage here: (Link)

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