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American diplomat participates in UN IDAHOBiT event

Courtney Nemroff: Coronavirus disproportionately impacts LGBTQ people

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Acting U.S. Representative to the U.N. Economic and Social Council Courtney Nemroff. (Photo via Twitter)

 

A U.S. diplomat on Monday acknowledged the coronavirus pandemic continues to have a disproportionate impact on LGBTQ people around the world.

“The COVID pandemic really highlights the challenges for the LGBTQ community,” said Acting U.S. Representative to the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Courtney Nemroff during a virtual event organized by the U.N. LGBTI Core Group that commemorated the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. “We are particularly concerned about the fear, the real fear of discrimination against members of the community when they try to seek basic health care services.”

Nemroff added the issue is “something of concern to the U.S. as well.”

OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern moderated the IDAHOBiT event in which Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the U.N.’s LGBTQ rights watchdog, and diplomats from Nepal and other countries around the world participated. Billie Bryan, president of Colours Cayman, an advocacy group in the Cayman Islands, and Khawla Bouaziz, secretary general of Mawjoudin, a Tunisian LGBTQ rights organization, also spoke.

 

The IDAHOBiT event took place hours after a Ugandan court ordered the release of 19 LGBTQ people who were arrested at a shelter in the country’s capital of Kampala on March 29 and charged with violating coronavirus-related social distancing rules.

Uganda is among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. Nemroff made a broad reference to a campaign led by acting national intelligence director Richard Grenell, who is also the U.S. ambassador to Germany, that encourages nations to legalize homosexuality.

“The United States has put a special accent this year on … amplifying our efforts on decriminalization and on equality,” said Nemroff.

IDAHOBiT, which was previously known as the International Day Against Homophobia, commemorates the World Health Organization’s decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder. Neither the White House, nor the State Department publicly acknowledged IDAHOBiT, but the U.S. Mission to the U.N. and many American embassies around the world did.

“In recognition of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, the United States Mission to the United Nations reaffirms its commitment to the principle that ‘the inherent dignity and … the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,'” reads a statement the U.S. Mission to the U.N. issued on Sunday. “Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is the duty of every nation to protect and defend the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people.”

The U.S. Embassy in Spain on Sunday in a tweet said, “today and every day we affirm that human rights and fundamental freedoms are universal and that each person has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

The U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan in a statement it posted to its Twitter account said it “stands in solidarity with LGBTI Kazakhstanis and displays the rainbow flag today in recognition of this important day.”

The U.S. Embassy in Germany in a tweet noted consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in more than a third of the world’s countries.

This year’s IDAHOBiT commemorations took place against the backdrop of the pandemic that has killed more than 300,000 people around the world. They also coincide with continued criticism of the Trump administration’s domestic LGBTQ rights record and its overall foreign policy.

The U.S. is among the countries that are members of the U.N. LGBTI Core Group, which promotes LGBTQ rights at the U.N. The U.S. nevertheless did not sign the IDAHOBiT statement the group issued on Sunday.

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is clear: Human rights are universal and should apply equally to all people everywhere,” reads the statement. “Today and every day the UN LGBTI Core Group works to address the silence around the ongoing discrimination against LGBTI people globally.”

The statement further states the “ongoing public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges that affect the global community as a whole but additionally have a particular and unique effect on those who face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, including LGBTI persons.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a human security crisis that is widespread in scope and impact, with survival, health, safety, economic security and human rights being endangered as a result. In order to truly address the impacts and consequences of the pandemic, the needs of those most vulnerable and most affected must be addressed,” it reads.

A State Department official on Tuesday told the Los Angeles Blade in response to its question about why the U.S. did not sign the U.N. LGBTI Core Group statement that American policy “on LGBTI human rights is focused on mitigating violence and the decriminalization of LGBTI conduct.” 

“The statements issued by the Core Group and the Equal (Rights) Coalition included broad language that went beyond the scope of the department’s policy mandate,” said the official. “The statements also go beyond settled U.S. law.”

The official did not further elaborate on how the statements “went beyond the scope of the department’s policy mandate” and “go beyond settled U.S. law.” The official did stress the U.S.’ “longstanding commitment to protecting the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people, including LGBTI persons, is well-known” and “so too is its interest in ensuring that any statements it joins are consistent with U.S. law and policy.”

“In this case, a virtual abbreviated negotiation process for a lengthy statement made it preferable to release our own statement, which went up on the USUN Mission’s website and social media yesterday,” added the official.

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Illinois

Illinois high school investigates ‘anti-queer’ bathroom survey

A group of students calling themselves the ‘Anti-Queer Association’ had circulated the so-called survey

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Anna-Jonesboro Community High School (Photo Credit: Anna-Jonesboro Community High School)

ANNA, Il. – An unofficial student survey that made the rounds at the Anna-Jonesboro Community High School located in the Southern tip of Illinois last week has the local LGBTQ+ community angered and LGBTQ+ students alarmed.

A group of students calling themselves the ‘Anti-Queer Association’ had circulated the so-called survey that asked: “Yes, I want queers to go in the bathroom,” or ” No, I don’t want queer kids to go to the bathroom with us normal people.”

Screenshot courtesy of NBC-affiliate, WPSD-TV 6, Paducah, Kentucky

Rob Wright, the superintendent told NBC News affiliate WPSD 6 News that school administrators found out about the survey this past Wednesday.

“We began investigating. We’re still investigating. At this point in time, I really can’t give any information regarding any individuals or discipline measures,” said Wright. “But, I can tell you that this type of harassment is taken very seriously and will not be tolerated. And once the investigation is complete, the appropriate discipline will take place where warranted.” 

The Rainbow Café LGBTQ Center in neighboring Carbondale, Illinois, responded to the survey, “My understanding is that it was an association that was brought upon the students and a parent that’s cosigning for it that made the Anti-Queer Association, basically trying to repeal the Keep Youth/Children Safe Act,” Michael Coleman a member of the Cafe’s board of directors told WPSD. “Basically stating that we are supposed to have inclusive bathrooms for those who are transgender or non-binary or non-conforming,” he added.

Coleman also told the station that bullying, harassment and discrimination of any kind is not tolerated.

Noting that the high school’s LGBTQ+ students are feeling alarmed and that there are no safe spaces, He said that the message he wanted to convey to those students is to let them know they have a safe space available with his organization. He also shared a message to those responsible for the survey.

“Come to Rainbow Cafe. We offer a plethora of resources and training,” he said. “I’m actually the one that does all of the training for different local agencies, schools. We do training on an individual basis as well, so you know, I like to tell people: If you don’t know something, learn it. Don’t spew hate about it because you don’t understand something.”

“They really feel very unsafe in that environment in Anna-Jonesboro and that they felt that nothing was going to get done,” Coleman said. “That by us taking that stand, that initiative, they really feel like it’s not going to happen anymore.”

Superintendent Wright said to WPSD that “he is personally disappointed that this happened at the school.” The station asked Wright if the staff at the Anna-Jonesboro Community High School will provide counseling to the LGBTQ+ and other students affected. His response was that the school has always had counseling and other resources available to students.

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Ohio

Akron, Ohio non-profit gears up to assist LGBTQ+ young adults

“Although there’s a nondiscrimination ordinance for LGBTQ+ people in Akron, he says that Ohio still has a long way to go for LGBTQ+ rights”

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Giovonni Santiago (Photo courtesy of META Akron Facebook page)

AKRON, Oh. – The Motivate, Educate, Transform and Advocate (META) Center has provided support to Northeast Ohio trans and gender-nonconforming youth from ages 7 to 19 since 2016. Now, Giovonni Santiago, the founder of the Akron, Ohio, based nonprofit, is gearing up to support people in their 20s. 

Santiago started the group to “create social change and foster acceptance” by providing housing coordination, legal advocacy, emotional support and community outreach, reports the Akron Beacon Journal

“Sometimes, it’s just allowing people to have a place to go,” Santiago told the Beacon Journal. “It’s like they don’t need to have a conversation. They just need a safe place.”

“I do this work because I want other people to live their life authentically,” he said.

Santiago says that parents who see their child “expressing differently than society would say they should” seek his help.

“A parent might say, ‘Well, my daughter likes to play with trucks’… and it’s not just a one-time thing,” he told the Beacon Journal. “It might be nothing, and it might be something.”

“We want them to know that’s not a bad thing,” he said. “We want people to feel valid with who they are.”

Although META is based in Akron and does much of its work in Northeast Ohio, Santiago says his group has a national impact, helping approximately 200 people a year, according to the Beacon Journal.

“It entails support groups, one-on-one peer support with myself, we send out care packages after individuals have gender-affirming surgery, we offer a clothing closet, so we send clothing to individuals who need clothes,” he said. 

Santiago, who is also the Northeast Ohio organizer for Equality Ohio, knows first-hand the struggle that trans kids face, as he too is a trans man.

“As trans people, the journey is not just ours,” he told the Beacon Journal. “It affects our families, it affects our friends. It affects everyone.”

According to the Beacon Journal, he entered the U.S. Air Force during the “don’t ask, don’t tell” military era. After his Air Force service, Santiago earned a degree in early childhood education and began teaching preschool.

At 27, Santiago began his medical transition at the Louis Stokes Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Center in 2013. He tells the Beacon Journal that he was the doctor’s first trans patient.  

“I was born female, and knew that I belonged in a male body,” he said. “So, I tell people that I’ve been transitioning, and I’ve been transitioning for eight years.”

Santiago is a highly regarded LGBTQ organizer. According to the newspaper, he was named one of Cleveland Magazine’s Most Interesting People and honored by NBC Out in 2018.

Although Santiago helped establish a nondiscrimination ordinance for LGBTQ+ people in Akron, he says that Ohio still has a long way to go for LGBTQ+ rights. Santiago added that nearby Cleveland is “No. 4 on the list for where Black trans women are murdered.”

“We’ve always been here, but we’ve had to live in fear,” he said. “Even now in Ohio, there are zero protections for LGBTQ people”

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Virginia

Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate opposes marriage equality

The Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center categorized as an extremist anti-LGBTQ hate group has endorsed Youngkin

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Glenn Youngkin (Blade file photo)

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. – Glenn Youngkin in an interview with the Associated Press has reiterated his opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Youngkin—a Republican who is running against Democrat Terry McAuliffe to succeed Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam—said in an interview published on Friday that he feels “called to love everyone.” Youngkin then reiterated his opposition to marriage equality before he added it is “legally acceptable” in the state. “I, as governor, will support that,” Youngkin told the AP.

McAuliffe was Virginia’s governor from 2014-2018. Same-sex couples began to legally marry in Virginia a few months after McAuliffe took office.

McAuliffe in 2014 became the first governor of a Southern state to officiate a same-sex wedding. The lesbian couple who McAuliffe married recently appeared in one of his campaign ads.

McAuliffe on Friday criticized Youngkin. “As governor, I worked my heart out to keep Virginia open and welcoming to all,” said McAuliffe in a tweet. “This type of bigotry and intolerance has no place in our commonwealth.”

The Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has categorized as an extremist anti-LGBTQ hate group, earlier this month endorsed Youngkin, but Log Cabin Republicans are among the groups that have backed his campaign.

The Human Rights Campaign in 2019 named Youngkin’s former company, the Carlyle Group, as a “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality” in its annual Corporate Equality Index.

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