Biden administration announces global LGBTQ rights priorities
Homosexuality remains criminalized in upwards of 70 countries
WASHINGTON — State Department spokesperson Ned Price on May 14 said the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the five priorities for the Biden administration in its efforts to promote LGBTQ rights abroad.
“The United States over the course of years has made some progress, but neither I, nor I think any objective observer should be satisfied with where we are,” Price told the Los Angeles Blade during a telephone interview. “There’s a lot more work to do.”
President Biden in February signed a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad. Price told the Blade the decriminalization of homosexuality is “one of the many reasons why” the White House issued it.
“It is one of the many reasons why Secretary Blinken is so focused on this issue as well,” said Price.
Homosexuality remains criminalized in nearly 70 countries around the world.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are among the handful of countries that impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of engaging in consensual same-sex sexual relations. Bhutan and Gabon are among the nations that have decriminalized homosexuality in recent years.
The Trump administration in 2019 tapped then-U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell to lead a decriminalization initiative. Price declined to tell the Blade whether he feels the campaign was effective.
“Across the board I generally have a posture of not characterizing the last administration,” said Price. “I’ll leave them to speak to their record.”
Migration mitigation efforts must be ‘holistic’
Price told the Blade the Biden administration will also work to protect LGBTQ migrants and asylum seekers.
“When it comes to the (issue of) irregular migration, this is not just a challenge at our border,” he said. “This is fundamentally a challenge that starts in the region and if we are to address the migrant flows that reach our borders, we’re going to have to start in the region and that’s precisely what we’re doing.”
Activists in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and other countries with whom the Blade has spoken say violence and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation are among the factors that prompt LGBTQ people to flee their homes and travel to the U.S.
Price did not say whether any of the $4 billion in aid the Biden administration has pledged to spend in order to help mitigate the causes of migration from Central America’s Northern Triangle will specifically go to LGBTQ rights groups or HIV/AIDS service organizations. Vice President Kamala Harris late last month announced an additional $310 million in aid to “address” what Price described as “the root causes of irregular migration and to provide people with the confidence that they need not undertake the very dangerous journey north to the United States and that they can be confident in their lives in their home countries.”
“Oftentimes that is about economic opportunity, but there are cases in which it has more to do with discrimination and persecution,” Price told the Blade. “And so, we recognize that our approach to addressing those underlying drivers has to be holistic, given there are a range of factors and that’s why we’re working with a variety of groups on the ground and also understanding that marginalized communities, including the LGBTQI community, in the region, that there needs to be meaningful partnership there as well.”
“USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) is deeply engaged in this work, the State Department is engaged in this work as well and will continue to be, knowing that if we’re going to make progress, if we’re going to address the underlying root causes of irregular migration, we need to attempt to address all of them,” he added.
Price told the Blade the administration’s three other global LGBTQ rights priorities are funding efforts “to protect human rights and to advance nondiscrimination around the world,” respond to anti-LGBTQ human rights abuses and “building coalitions and engaging international organizations in the fight against this discrimination.”
“We have said across the board that one of the pillars of our foreign policy is the recognition that, yes, the United States is the most powerful country on the face of the Earth,” said Price. “We have tremendous sway and influence the world over, but we also recognize that in every challenge in virtually every arena, we will be able to do more, we will be able to be more effective, we’ll be able to be more persuasive and act more decisively when we bring our allies and partners along with us and this administration has put a great deal of emphasis on our alliances, our partnerships, but also those like-minded, as we call them, partners.”
Price added the U.S. recognizes “the values we share with our closest partners in the world are incredibly important.”
“They provide us with a similar framework and a set of priorities on which to act and of course working together to protect, but also to promote the rights of LGBTQ populations around the world,” he told the Blade. “It is a core tenet of what we share with our like-minded allies and partners. You will see us doing this on a bilateral basis. You will see us doing this on a multilateral basis, within blocks and groupings, and also at the U.N. as well. We will seek to press this case in all of those contexts.”
Blinken issues IDAHOBiT statement
Price spoke with the Blade three days before the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, which commemorates the World Health Organization’s 1990 decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder. Blinken on Sunday in a statement acknowledged IDAHOBiT.
“The message of ‘Together: Resisting, Supporting, Healing!’ is especially poignant as this year’s IDAHOTB theme,” said Blinken. “Ending hatred and violence against LGBTQI+ persons requires collaborative action from us all.”
“The United States is doing its part,” he added. “Within the first weeks of his administration, President Biden issued a memorandum instructing all U.S. federal agencies working abroad to ‘ensure that U.S. diplomatic efforts and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons.’ And that important work is well underway.”
Blinken in his IDAHOBiT statement also referenced the same five priorities that Price discussed with the Blade.
“Working together, we can create a world that respects and celebrates the dignity of all individuals,” said Blinken. “It is in partnership that we will achieve our goal of a rights-respecting, inclusive society where no one lives in fear because of who they are or whom they love.”
Blinken in March announced the State Department has disbanded the Commission on Unalienable Rights, a human rights advisory committee his predecessor created that LGBTQ activists sharply criticized.
He announced last month the State Department will once again allow U.S. diplomatic installations to fly the Pride flag. The position of special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad within the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor has remained vacant since 2017, but Blinken has pledged to make it an ambassador level post.
The Trump administration in 2018 withdrew from the U.N. Human Rights Council, which in recent years has emerged as a vocal champion of LGBTQ rights around the world. Blinken in February announced the U.S. will “reengage” with it.
Price is the first openly gay State Department spokesperson.
“I know that every time I say something I am speaking on behalf of the Department of State, on behalf of Secretary Blinken, on behalf of the U.S. government, sometimes on behalf of President Biden,” he told the Blade. “I’m not sure what I fully appreciated before actually coming into this job is that I’m actually speaking to the LGBTQ community around the world.”
Price said he received emails and tweets from around the world after the Biden transition team announced his appointment. Price told the Blade that some people were “seemingly in shock,” while others had “some degree of delight that a member of the LGBTQ community would be put in such a public facing role in an American administration.”
“I understand this work is not about me,” Price told the Blade. “I’m never offering my personal opinion, but I think that I’ve come to understand that there is meaning in having an openly gay man in a role like this. There is meaning for the LGBTQ community at home, but especially in this role there is meaning and value attached to having that be the case around the world, and especially around the world where members of the community are routinely and often times systematically persecuted.”
30,000 march in Jerusalem Pride parade
Anti-LGBTQ violence reported after event
WDG is the Washington Blade’s media partner in Israel. WDG originally published this article on Friday.
JERUSALEM — Upwards of 30,000 people on Thursday marched in the Jerusalem Pride and Tolerance Parade, which marked the beginning of Pride month in Israel.
The parade, organized by the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, began with the traditional gathering at Gan Happamon. Many politicians also came to support and encourage the marchers.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid, who chairs the Yesh Atid party, in his speech referred to the counterprotest the Lahava movement organized near the parade’s starting point. Several dozen LGBTQ+ and intersex rights opponents participated in the protest.
“Outside are standing, like every year, the wretched thugs of Lahava movement, demonstrating against us,” said Lapid. “Only this year these people are no longer just a ridiculous bunch of dark extremists — they are part of the government. Bezalel Smotrich, (Internal Security Minister) Itamar Ben-Gvir [and] Avi Maoz, are trying to push us all back into the closet, to the dark closet of their foreknowledge. In Israel there is not one fight for democracy and a separate fight for LGBT rights. It’s the same struggle against those enemies. in the name of those values. Those who attack Israeli democracy attack the LGBTs, those who attack the LGBTs attack democracy.”
Benny Gantz, chair of the National Unity Party, referred to the need to hold parades in the capital.
“We won’t have to march when in this parade we won’t need security, we won’t need snipers and undercover policemen. We won’t have to walk when each and every one can walk in any neighborhood they want, holding hands like any couple. We will not have to march when gay will not be a curse in school but simply self-determination, when each and every one can fill out any government form according to what he is,” he said. “We will not have to march when a prime minister in Israel would not think of giving the keys to the education system to a dark racist and allocating hundreds of millions to oversee liberal education programs. I am ashamed of this and I tell you that even at the most difficult political price, I will never do such a thing. We will not have to march when there are no racists in the government. Such people would be denounced and would not be elected, not because of the law — but because no one would want to elect them. We won’t have to step when simple love won’t be complicated or will be as complicated as any simple love.”
At the end of the gathering, the marchers began marching towards Independence Park where Ran Danker, Ivri Lider, Roni Duani, Rinat Bar and others were performing.
More than 2,000 police officers and soldiers, visible and hidden, secured parade participants with the assistance of reinforcements and volunteers.
As with every year, the police commissioner and the Minister of internal Security came to the parade area to examine the work of the police in the field. But unlike previous years, Ben-Gvir was received with shouts of “shame.” Ben-Gvir came to supervise the parade, despite a prior demand from the parade organizers that he refrain from doing so.
“In my position as a minister, I do and will do everything so that there is no crazy case, as was the case with the murder of Shira Banki,” said Ben-Gvir, “My policy is to give freedom of speech to those who oppose the parade, even to those who speak against the parade, that is their right. They are not breaking the law yet. Our job on this day is to allow the parade and protest, this is democracy, this is the beautiful mosaic in the state of Israel and this is how I act as minister of national security.”
Several serious incidents of violence against the LGBTQ+ community took place after the parade ended and marchers dispersed. In one of them, boys and young men were seen setting Pride flags on fire, and in the second, a group of young people attacked a number of LGBTQ+ people near Jerusalem’s Central Station. They shouted at them to “go back to Tel Aviv, you son of a bitch.”
“This is a resounding slap in the face that reminds us that no matter how much we spread light, the struggle is not over yet, and the hatred towards us exists and understands,” Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance said in response to the violence. “In Jerusalem those who walk around the city tonight, are asked to be alert and take care of themselves. Don’t worry, we will win.”
“The Jerusalem parade is the strongest expression of our opposition to hatred, and to the plans of the hate lobby to fight in our community,” Hevruta, an LGBTQ+ religious organization, said. “Even hundreds of millions of shekels, the authority and standards of Avi Maoz and the Noam party will not be able to extinguish our love for God, for who we are and for our families.”
Latvia elects first openly gay President
Latvia’s neighbors have also been slow to advance LGBT rights, although Estonia’s government is expected to advance a same-sex marriage bill
By Rob Salerno | RIGA – The Latvian Parliament elected Edgars Rinkēvičs as the country’s next president in a vote held Wednesday. When he assumes office on July 8, he will be the country’s first openly gay head of state, as well as the first openly gay head of state of an EU country or a former Soviet country.
Latvia’s President is a largely ceremonial role that is elected by the national Parliament. He won a narrow majority of 52 out of 100 votes on the third ballot, held coincidentally during Pride week in the capital, Riga.
Rinkēvičs has served as Latvia’s foreign minister since 2011, a post where he became popular for championing European integration.
In 2014, he became the first Latvian political figure to come out publicly, while the country debated a same-sex civil union law. To date, the Latvian Parliament has still been unable to pass any laws recognizing same-sex couples, despite multiple court decisions ordering it to do so.
Reached for comment after the election, the Latvian LGBT advocacy group Mozaika and Riga Pride released a joint statement saying they are thrilled with the election.
“We are thrilled about the fact that Edgars Rinkevics will be the next President of Latvia. First and foremost, he is one of the most popular and professional politicians in Latvia, and with this election “he broke the glass ceiling.” He is an absolute inspiration to many young people and the LGBT community at large.
“We are hopeful that he will stand behind his promise to have human rights and democracy as one of his priorities and we believe he will play an instrumental role to strengthen Latvia’s society and will make it safer not just for the LGBT community but for many vulnerable groups,” the groups say.
Not everyone has been so thrilled. Former Member of the European Parliament Andrejs Mamikins, tweeted that “God will no longer bless Latvia,” in response to the election.
“Today, godlessness won the presidential election in Latvia. Disgrace and misery @edgarsrinkevics,” he wrote.
Latvian TV reports that the State Police have opened an investigation into Mamikins’ post for possible violations of the law banning incitement to hatred.
Latvia, a deeply conservative Baltic nation of about 1.8 million people about one-third of whom are Russian-speakers, regained its independence amid the breakup of the Soviet Union. Since that time, it has taken a stridently pro-Western political orientation, including joining NATO, the European Union, and the Eurozone.
But the country’s political elite has never warmly embraced LGBT rights. According to ILGA-Europe’s Rainbow Index 2023, Latvia scored only 22% on a list of legislated rights for LGBT people, placing it 37th among 49 ranked countries.
Latvia’s neighbors on the Baltic Sea have also been slow to advance LGBT rights, although Estonia’s government is expected to advance a same-sex marriage bill in Parliament next week, and Lithuania’s parliament passed a civil union bill through a second reading vote in May.
While openly gay and lesbian people have served as prime minister of several other EU countries – including Ireland’s Leo Varadkar, Luxembourg’s Xavier Bettel, and Belgium’s Elio Di Rupo – Rinkēvičs will be the first gay person to hold the role of head of state of an EU country. The only other openly gay head of state in modern history was Paolo Rondelli, who was one of the two Captains Regent of the microstate San Marino for six months in 2022.
Rob Salerno is a writer, journalist and actor based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.
Advocacy groups in Africa condemn Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act
South African organizations criticize government’s silence
JOHANNESBURG — LGBTQ+ and intersex rights groups across Africa have condemned the signing of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that calls for the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.”
Mpho Buntse, a spokesperson for Access Chapter 2, a South African LGBTQ+ and intersex advocacy organization, said it was very worrisome the South African government did not condemn the law, even though the country is the only one on the continent that fully upholds LGBTQ+ and intersex rights.
“It has really been apparent that South Africa would rather protect its diplomatic relations rather than impose on the sovereignty of a country like Uganda. However, we are not dealing with an issue of economic or financial diplomacy, but we are dealing with a human rights crisis. We are dealing with a situation where we could see potential violence being subjected to the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda, but not only to the LGBTQ+ community but the rest of the Ugandan population stands to be affected by this law because even if you don’t identify as LGBTQ+ you will be compelled to report to the state those that you know that identify as LGBTQ+,” said Buntse. “So we find it really problematic that we choose to be just spectators when we could or potentially have played an active role from the start of this.”
Buntse noted Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act on Monday, was in South Africa in late February.
“We didn’t seize the opportunity to play an active role, so South Africa is always on a missed opportunity where we are now seeing a country to be a spectator instead of being an ally of the LGBTQ+ community,” added Buntse.
Bruce Walker of Pretoria Pride, another South African advocacy group, said he was not surprised by the government’s stance.
“They are showing their true colors,” said Walker. “The governing party is full of homophobes. It’s written in the constitution, the rights for the LGBTQI+ community, but they never support the LGBTQI+ community. They flatly ignore it. You either support and respect our constitution or not but as it stands they do not. They are far too scared to take a stand.”
Gays And Lesbians of Zimbabwe also condemned the law, saying it violates human rights.
“This law blatantly violates the human rights of LGBTQ individuals in Uganda including the right to privacy, freedom from discrimination and the right to equal protection under the law We stand shoulder to shoulder with the Ugandan LGBTQ community through this difficult time,” said GALZ in a statement. “We call on the Ugandan leadership to engage in constructive dialogue, and to work towards solutions that are inclusive and respectful to all individuals.”
Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana, like GALZ, also condemned the law and expressed solidarity with LGBTQ+ and intersex Ugandans.
“It’s a great disappointed to have the president assent the Anti-Homosexuality Bill,” said LEGABIBO. “To all LGBTIQ+ identifying persons in Uganda, we stand in solidarity with you.”
East Africa Trans Health and Advocacy Network also castigated the law. EATHAN, like LEGABIBO and GALZ, said it will continue to stand up for LGBTQ+ and intersex rights in Uganda.
“Sad day for LGBTIQ Ugandans. We stand with our trans, intersex and nonbinary Ugandans and the entire LGBTIQ community. We must keep fighting and have the law declared unconstitutional,” said EATHAN.
We Are All Ghana, a Ghanaian LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group, in its reaction said the community in Uganda and across Africa should not be silenced.
“As we stand in solidarity with the Ugandan queer community, let us remind ourselves as the Ghanaian LGBTQ+ community and Africans as a whole that we must not allow ourselves to be bullied into silence. our rights are as human as anyone else’s,” said We Are All Ghana.
Shemerirwe Agnes, executive director of Africa Queer Network, a Uganda-based advocacy group, said there was nothing anyone or any particular organization could have done to dissuade Museveni from signing the bill.
“We are being attacked and killed since that bill was passed because the society and the police thought that just because that bill was passed it was now law so one would think that just because it’s now law then it’s now going to be implemented,” said Agnes. “It was implemented even before it was signed into law there is nothing we can do now because President Museveni doesn’t listen to anyone.”
U.S. President Joe Biden is among those who have also condemned the Anti-Homosexuality Act.
The White House has announced it will “evaluate” the law’s implications and how it may impact U.S. aid to Uganda. Advocacy groups, meanwhile, have challenged the Anti-Homosexuality Act in the Ugandan Constitutional Court.
Daniel Itai is the Washington Blade’s Africa Correspondent.
Trans woman from Kashmir makes her mark
Shoaib Khan has been in corporate India for 11 years
SRINAGAR, India — Kashmir, the crown of India, the world’s largest democracy, has been the center of the flourishing of Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism and other religions.
The Transgender community since ancient times has had cultural roots in every state in India, including Kashmir, but a conservative society did not let the community spread its wings properly. Breaking all odds, Shoaib Khan finished her studies and became the first Trans person from Kashmir to work in India’s corporate world.
Khan is a person who believes that people do not come out, but they feel the same from childhood. Her journey was never to come out, but she felt the same from her childhood.
“I was dependent on people, like my family, for lots of things,” said Khan. “When I got the ability to stand by myself, when I was independent, I started behaving the way I wanted to and I started accepting the way I was from my childhood.”
Before the India Supreme Court’s historic ruling that struck down Section 377, a colonial-era law that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country, talking about trans people was a taboo topic for many.
Khan told the Washington Blade it was difficult to come out because Trans people face ridicule and bullying. She believed that if one can have determination and confidence, the world starts to adjust and accept.
Khan also believes that family plays an important role, but her family’s reaction was not good when she told them about herself. Khan told the Blade that since the family knows their own from childhood, it was not a surprise for them. She stood her ground, and she is still fighting for her rights in her social circle.
Through the Blade, Khan wants to encourage other families anywhere in the world to support their kids if they are from the LGBTQ+ and intersex community.
“At least do not deprive them of their basic human rights,” said Khan. “Try to educate them, and if they gets any opportunity then these people will excel in multiple fields.”
As a Trans person, Khan’s journey to get an education was not easy.
She faced humiliation, harassment and mental torture. When Khan was in seventh grade, someone bullied her, and when she went back home, she cried and counted the remaining days of school.
“I counted days that how many days I have to go to school to face this humiliation till 10th standard,” said Khan, while talking about her childhood. “The journey was not easy.”
Khan said society has a major role to play to make the lives of Trans people easy. She urged her community to stay strong and connect to excel in life where they are accepted.
Khan has completed her bachelor’s in commerce and master’s in business administration with a specialization in human resources. She is currently working with a corporation in India.
While talking with the Blade, Khan said that India’s Trans community is facing a lot of discrimination, not only in Kashmir but around the country. Khan believes discrimination is present because of the lack of awareness about the community, but at the same time she believes the community is seeing improvements.
“Before decriminalization of homosexuality, there was no option to choose for gender other than male or female, but now if you go to the Aadhaar link (India’s biometric ID card,) you have the option to choose between male, female and others,” said Khan. “This is a great example in that our country is leading the improvements. Our country is behaving democratically, where people have the right to choose what they are.”
Khan suggested the government should spread awareness about gender identity so that people know it is natural and people do not choose it.
While talking with the Blade, Khan thanked close friends and family who supported her throughout her journey. She said that many people have supported her, but some close ones made her competent enough to fight her way to where she is at.
“I would like to thank them for their unconditional love and support,” said Khan. “They will be happy to see my work published, where I am talking about rights and standing for my community. That is a big achievement.”
‘Journey is not easy’
Khan has worked in the corporate world for 11 years.
She began her career in the airline industry before she entered the corporate sector. Khan said her experience in the airline industry was not as good as she expected because there was no sensitization about gender. She said corporate policies are not bad, but people should be sensitized before introducing someone from the LGBTQ+ community.
While talking about her previous experience, she said she was subjected to some harassment and humiliation. Although she raised her voice and actions were taken at the time, Khan said her current corporate journey has gone well, and she feels satisfied.
She said other members of the LGBTQ+ and intersex community feel proud of what she has accomplished, and they say she is their representative from Kashmir.
“The journey is not easy,” said Khan. “You can look on to the lives of where people from trans community or LGBTQ community have achieved success. Because they did not put themselves in a confined zone where they are subjected to humiliation only. So, they concentrated on education. I would like to give an important message to my community that you need to be educated, you need to have a light in your eyes, and where you can differentiate between right and wrong.”
Ankush Kumar is a 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.
Second Japanese court rules gay marriage ban is unconstitutional
The judge said more people have become supportive of recognizing same-sex marriage, & the reasoning behind excluding it is becoming “shaky”
NAGOYA, Aichi Prefecture, Japan – In a ruling issued Tuesday, local time, the Nagoya District Court became the second major higher court in the country to rule that the lack of legal recognition of same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.
Presiding Judge Osamu Nishimura said more people have become supportive of recognizing same-sex marriage, and the reasoning behind excluding same-sex couples from the legal marriage system is becoming “shaky,” resulting in a situation that is “difficult to ignore,” the Kyodo News agency reported.
Kyodo also noted the court pointed out that the public remains divided over the issue, and it was only in 2015 that a system to issue certificates recognizing same-sex couples as being in “relationships equivalent to marriage” was introduced by local governments in Japan for the first time.
In March of 2021 the Sapporo District Court issued its ruling that the local in Sapporo 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.
In Tuesday’s ruling, Judge Osamu Nishimura echoed the Sapporo decision saying that a failure to recognize same-sex marriage violates Article 14 of the Constitution, which stipulates that all people are equal, and Article 24, which stipulates that “laws shall be enacted from the standpoint of individual dignity and the essential equality of the sexes.”
The two rulings are at odds with opinions issued by other high courts across Japan. Public Media Broadcaster NHK reported that in June 2022, the Osaka District Court ruled that the ban does not violate the Constitution. The judge said Article 24 stipulates that marriage shall be based on the mutual consent of parties from both sexes.
The Tokyo District Court also ruled the ban constitutional in November that year. At the same time, the judge said not providing legal protections for same-sex families represents an “unconstitutional state.”
With this second ruling, pressure is building on the Japanese Diet (Parliament) to legalize same-sex unions.
The case, brought by two male residents in a relationship from Aichi Prefecture, were represented by attorney Yoko Mizushima who told reporters: “This ruling has rescued us from the hurt of last year’s ruling that said there was nothing wrong with the ban, and the hurt of what the government keeps saying,” referring to the June 2022, Osaka District Court ruling last year that the ban was not unconstitutional.
Turkish activists fear Erdoğan will further restrict LGBTQ+, intersex rights
Long-time president won re-election on Sunday
ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday won re-election.
Erdoğan, a former Istanbul mayor who has governed Turkey since 2003, defeated Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in the presidential election’s second round by a 52-48 percent margin. The Associated Press notes Erdoğan will remain in office until at least 2028.
Turkish authorities over the last decade have increasingly cracked down on LGBTQ+ and intersex activists in the country.
Police in 2015 used tear gas and water cannons against people who were about to participate in an Istanbul Pride march. Authorities in 2017 arrested nearly two dozen people who defied a ban on Pride events in the city.
Police in Ankara, the Turkish capital, on May 10, 2019, arrested 18 students and an academic who participated in a Pride march at the Middle East Technical University. They faced up to three years in prison, but a court in 2021 acquitted them. Police in 2022 violently broke up a Pride parade at the same Ankara university.
The State Department in 2021 criticized Turkey after police once again used tear gas to disperse Istanbul Pride march participants near the city’s Istiklal Avenue. Security forces last June arrested more than 370 people who tried to participate in another Istanbul Pride march.
Fourteen Turkish LGBTQ+ and intersex rights organizations in a joint statement they issued ahead of Sunday’s election noted both Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu “resorted to hate speech during the election process.”
“The election period is long and painful for all of us,” reads the joint statement the May 17 Association, SPoD (Social Policy, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Studies Association), Ankara Rainbow Families Association (GALADER), the Young Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans Intersex Youth Studies and Solidarity Association, the HEVI LGBTI+ Solidarity Association, Kaos GL, the Red Umbrella Association, Lambda Istanbul, LGBTI+ Families and Relatives Association, Mersin 7 Colors LGBT, Muamma, the Free Colors LGBTI+ Solidarity Association, the Pink Life LGBTI+ Solidarity Association and ÜniKuir issued. “The bitter pills we swallowed during the election are now overflowing the cup. Before the elections and during the first round of the elections, LGBTI+ people were often targeted and the focus of hate speech, while racism and refugee hostility also dominated in the second round.”
The statement also described the presidential election as a “referendum.”
“This election is a referendum on whether the 12th president’s rule will continue or not, whether the one-man regime in the country will come to an end or not,” it reads. “Yes, we will continue to be in the opposition regardless of the outcome. But this election is also the election of under which conditions and against whom we will oppose from now on.”
Media reports indicate Erdoğan in his victory speech criticized the Turkish opposition “for being pro-LGBT.”
Erdogan rallies against the Turkish opposition for being pro-LGBT in his victory speech
“CHP, HDP and all others are pro-LGBT. But LGBT cannot infiltrate among us. We will be reborn. The family is sacred. The violence against women is forbidden”
— Ragıp Soylu (@ragipsoylu) May 28, 2023
One activist with whom the Washington Blade spoke on Monday said Erdoğan “unfortunately” won re-election.
“LGBTI activism in Turkey will be even more threatened,” said the activist.
Museveni signs Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act
Law calls for death penalty for ‘aggravated homosexuality’
KAMPALA, Uganda — Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Monday signed his country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act into law.
MPs in March approved the Anti-Homosexuality Act, but Museveni on April 20 sent it back to Parliament for additional consideration.
Lawmakers earlier this month once again approved the measure without provisions that would have required Ugandans to “report acts of homosexuality” and would have not criminalized LGBTQ+ people simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The second version of the Anti-Homosexuality Act that MPs passed calls for the death penalty for anyone found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality.”
“As the Parliament of Uganda, we have answered the cries of our people. We have legislated to protect the sanctity of family as per Article 31 of the Constitution of Uganda,” said Ugandan Parliament Speaker Anita Among in a statement after Museveni signed the bill. “We have stood strong to defend our culture and aspirations of our people as per objectives 19 and 24 of national objectives and directive principles of state policy.”
Jacqueline Kasha Nabagesara, a Ugandan LGBTQ+ and intersex activist, described Museveni’s decision to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Act as a “dark day for human rights of LGBTQIA+ and allies.”
Anti homosexuality bill signed into law by President. Dark day for human rights of LGBTQIA+ and allies.https://t.co/UD3jvVARdi
— Bombastic Kasha (@KashaJacqueline) May 29, 2023
Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson in a statement condemned the law.
“This new law to restrict the rights of LGBTQ+ Ugandans is by far the most horrific display of bigotry we have seen in recent memory in Uganda, and in all of Africa,” said Robinson. “The Ugandan Parliament should be ashamed of themselves for considering this draconian law that erases the internationally recognized rights of LGBTQ+ Ugandans, and President Museveni should be condemned for not using the full power of his position to stop it. We at the Human Rights Campaign stand in solidarity with human rights defenders and the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda.”
The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, UNAIDS and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in a joint statement said they “are deeply concerned about the harmful impact of the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 on the health of its citizens and its impact on the AIDS response that has been so successful up to now.”
“Uganda’s progress on its HIV response is now in grave jeopardy,” reads the statement. “The Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 will obstruct health education and the outreach that can help end AIDS as a public health threat. The stigma and discrimination associated with the passage of the act has already led to reduced access to prevention as well as treatment services. Trust, confidentiality and stigma-free engagement are essential for anyone seeking health care. LGBTQI+ people in Uganda increasingly fear for their safety and security, and increasing numbers of people are being discouraged from seeking vital health services for fear of attack, punishment and further marginalization.”
Museveni, with the support of anti-LGBTQ+ evangelicals from the U.S., in 2014 signed a version of the Anti-Homosexuality Act that imposed a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. The law was known as the “Kill the Gays” bill because it previously contained a death penalty provision.
The U.S. subsequently cut aid to Uganda and imposed a travel ban against officials who carried out human rights abuses. Uganda’s Constitutional Court later struck down the 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Act on a technicality.
The U.S. last month postponed a meeting on the PEPFAR’s work in Uganda in order to assess the potential impact the Anti-Homosexuality Act will have on it. Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights, and other American officials have said the Biden-Harris administration is considering “the potential impact of the Anti-Homosexuality Act on U.S. foreign assistance.”
“The United States is deeply troubled by Uganda’s passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, a law that undermines the human rights, prosperity and welfare of all Ugandans,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement. “Uganda’s failure to safeguard the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons is part of a broader degradation of human rights protections that puts Ugandan citizens at risk and damages the country’s reputation as a destination for investment, development, tourism and refugees.”
Blinken said the U.S. “urges the government of Uganda to refrain from implementing laws that undermine human rights.”
“In the context of the serious concerns conveyed by President Biden, I am announcing today that the Department of State will develop mechanisms to support the rights of LGBTQI+ individuals in Uganda and to promote accountability for Ugandan officials and other individuals responsible for, or complicit in, abusing their human rights,” added Blinken. “I have also directed the department to update our travel guidance to American citizens and to U.S. businesses as well as to consider deploying existing visa restrictions tools against Ugandan officials and other individuals for abuse of universal human rights, including the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons.”
Nabagesera and Sexual Minorities Uganda Executive Director Frank Mugisha are among those who challenged the Anti-Homosexuality Act in the Ugandan Constitutional Court after Museveni signed it.
Intersex Kenyans see significant gains under landmark law
MPs approved statute last year
NAIROBI, Kenya — The push for intersex people to enjoy equal rights as Kenya’s third sex has recorded significant gains since a landmark law took effect last July.
Intersex people arrested for breaking the law can now be presented in court as intersex, since prosecutors have adopted the special ‘I’ sex marker for the group in charging documents.
This addresses the problem of authorities identifying intersex people for trial that became public in 2006 when police officers could not tell the sex of a detainee they perceived as a man who had been accused of a violent robbery. They had strip-searched him.
The gains noted in the latest report by the country’s Intersex Persons Implementation Coordination Committee also note the inclusion of intersex concepts in Kenya’s new education curriculum for awareness.
The IPICC falls under the purview of Kenya’s National Commission on Human Rights.
Intersex awareness in schools for recognition and capacity building in the future targets adolescents at the junior secondary level where they are educated on the reproductive system.
Veronica Mwangi, the IPICC’s head of secretariat who spoke to Washington Blade, commended the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for introducing the ‘I’ sex marker for intersex people in charging documents.
“We have made gains in the criminal justice but we should not go back to the tendencies where intersex persons only require a lot of attention when it comes to crime. It is a misconception that misses the map,” she said.
Citing a proposed Intersex Persons Bill 2023 currently undergoing public comment before being presented for debate in Parliament, Mwangi believes it envisages more benefits to intersex people.
For instance, the bill proposes access to more comprehensive medical attention for intersex people during surgeries and expensive medical examinations like Karyotype, a DNA and hormonal composition test that costs between $900-$1,000.
The bill would also require medical insurance providers to come up with an affordable, unique package that addresses the needs of intersex people by taking into account the reality of their lived experiences.
“The reality of the matter is you may give birth to an intersex child as a girl but later it turns out to be a boy. Hence the medical package that was given to the girl may not apply to the boy,” Mwangi said.
She added the medical insurance policy should be capable of responding to such changes, since intersex people will always have medical needs that keep shifting.
The bill would also allow intersex people to change their sex marker at any time to reflect their new status after undergoing a comprehensive medical examination and a medical certificate to prove it. The measure would also demand the government to recognize intersex people as a vulnerable group, such as those living with disabilities, women, young people and orphans, in order to more easily access social protection programs.
It would further require employers to consider intersex people for employment and the Kenya Examination Council to support the registration of intersex people’s’ academic documents that indicate their name has changed because of a legal sex change.
The Civil Registration Services, a government agency that documenting all births and deaths, has already been working closely with IPICC to change names on the birth certificates of intersex people to reflect their correct sex for easier access to public services.
Kenya became the first African country to grant equal rights and recognition to intersex people in 2022. It is also the first nation on the continent and the second in the world after Australia to count intersex people in a Census in 2019.
The survey showed 1,524 Kenyans were intersex.
After many years of marginalization and discrimination, the IPICC progress report states that several intersex people for the first time were involved in monitoring Kenya’s August 2022 general election as observers. Other intersex people subjected themselves to the electoral process to be nominated or elected as county assembly representatives, the lowest electoral position, including one in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.
“This was a bold move and a big achievement because, for the first time in Kenya, intersex persons came out and tested the waters in politics,” Mwangi said.
She cited stigma and fear among intersex people in presenting conflicting documents about their sex to the electoral commission for clearance as the cause of staying away from politics before the enactment of the law that recognizes them. Mwangi urged intersex people to come out and take advance of available opportunities and assistance, since most of them don’t and it becomes hard to reach them.
Since the landmark law came into force in July last year; several psychosocial support groups for intersex persons, their parents and caregivers have been established in the country to offer any necessary assistance that includes counselling. The IPICC has also created a database of intersex people, a text message service and a toll-free number to report cases of discrimination and to advocate on their behalf.
Oct. 26, 2022, also marked the first official event that commemorated Intersex Awareness Day in Kenya.
Transgender journalist who enlisted in Ukrainian military returns to U.S.
Sarah Ashton-Cirillo wounded on battlefield in February
WASHINGTON — Sarah Ashton-Cirillo was a journalist when she began to cover the Armed Forces of Ukraine’s Kharkiv Defense Forces at the beginning of Russia’s war against the country. She eventually enlisted, and a commander from the Ukrainian Defense Ministry on Jan. 31 facilitated her transfer to the unit’s 209th Batallion of the 113th Brigade.
Ashton-Cirillo, a Transgender woman who was born in New York, was working as a senior combat medic in a trench near Kreminna, a Russian-occupied city in eastern Ukraine, on Feb. 23 when shrapnel from an enemy artillery shell wounded her. Ashton-Cirillo suffered injuries to her right hand and to her face, and her fellow soldiers had to wait seven hours to evacuate her. Ashton-Cirillo eventually received treatment for her injuries in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city that is roughly 130 miles northwest of Kreminna.
“The big key there was I wasn’t able to take any painkiller by staying in the trench because I was still technically in battle,” she recalled to the Washington Blade on May 19 during an interview that took place at a coffee shop near the U.S. Capitol.
Ashton-Cirillo noted her unit won the battle during which she had been wounded.
“Seven hours after my injury, I finally got to a hospital,” she said. “By that point I hadn’t taken any antibiotics (because) we didn’t have any antibiotics and infection had set in. They took me to a hospital in Kharkiv and they had to clean the wound. They had to wait to make certain that it was healing before they could do surgery.”
“I was living with this open wound for eight days,” added Ashton-Cirillo, who was in uniform when she spoke with the Blade. “They were able to close my face up on the second day.”
Two small scars on her face are visible. She said she has limited mobility in her right hand, and has no feeling from her wrist to her fingers.
“For the most part, I’m so blessed and very lucky,” said Ashton-Cirillo.
Ashton-Cirillo now a junior sergeant
The Blade first spoke with Ashton-Cirillo last December while she was in D.C. to speak with lawmakers on behalf of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry about the Armed Forces of Ukraine’s medical needs.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with President Joe Biden and spoke to a joint session of Congress less than three weeks after the interview.
Ashton-Cirillo early last month became a junior sergeant. She returned to D.C. on May 15.
Ashton-Cirillo met with U.S. Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) and aides for U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) before she left the nation’s capital on May 19. Ashton-Cirillo also spoke to journalists from the Global South at the National Press Club and met with José Andrés, whose World Central Kitchen continues to operate in Ukraine, and Amnesty International representatives.
“We had some successes on my trip in December,” she said. “Members of Congress … in the House and Senate were interested in my experiences regarding my service.”
Ashton-Cirillo specifically praised Andrés for his work in Ukraine.
“There is nobody that’s done more for our cause,” said Ashton-Cirillo. “Nobody has done more to save the Ukrainian people as a foreign civilian than World Central Kitchen and Chef José Andrés.”
No timeframe for spring offensive
Ashton-Cirillo sat down with the Blade two days before Zelenskyy met with Biden and other world leaders at the G7 summit in Japan. (Biden met with Zelenskyy in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, on Feb. 20.)
Ukrainian officials this week denied Russia’s claims that it had captured Bakhmut, a city in Donetsk Oblast. (Ashton-Cirillo last December told the Blade she had previously worked to counter Russian propaganda that claimed Russian troops had captured the city.) The Associated Press reported a group of anti-Kremlin Russian partisans — the Russian government described them as Ukrainian “military sabeteurs” — attacked an area near Belgorod, a Russian city that is roughly 25 miles from the country’s border with Ukraine.
The International Criminal Court in March issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Children’s Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova over the abduction of children from Ukraine. Zelenskyy earlier this month visited the ICC while he was in the Netherlands.
Ukraine continues to ask the U.S. and other countries for more weapons as it prepares to launch its long anticipated “spring” offensive.
Patriot missiles on May 16 shot down 29 of the 30 missiles that Russia launched at Kyiv. Ashton-Cirillo said Ukraine specifically needs DPICMs (dual-purpose improved conventional munition), a type of smart munition, “so we can soften up the Russian trench lines.”
“I know what these trenches are,” she said. “They are going to be absolutely fortified as we attempt our counter attacks and any potential counter offensive.”
Ashton-Cirillo said she does not have a “timeframe” for when the offensive to begin.
“We want all the weapons we can get now before launching,” she said. “We will beat the Russians under any circumstances and we are we have the history to prove it.”
“We’re trying to make certain that we’re not losing unnecessary Ukrainian lives,” added Ashton-Cirillo. “We’re not wasting U.S. taxpayer dollars and the best way to do that is have an efficient, effective attack method, and that’s why we need some of these more technologically advanced weapons. We can fight with RPGs and our assault rifles, and we’ll win, but at high cost, high cost to us, high cost to the American taxpayer. We understand as stewards of the Americans’ trust that we have to do everything in a proper way to bring victory as soon as possible.”
Gender identity ‘less of a spectacle among the international press’
Zelenskyy last summer said he supports a civil partnerships law for same-sex couples. Ukrainian lawmakers later approved a media regulation bill that will ban hate speech and incitement based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Zelenskyy, a former actor and comedian, in made a broad reference to LGBTQ and intersex rights in a virtual appearance at this year’s Golden Globes. Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova during a Jan. 26 event in D.C. that highlighted Ukrainian LGBTQ+ servicemembers applauded Kyiv Pride and other LGBTQ+ and intersex rights groups in her country.
Ashton-Cirillo pointed out the Ukrainian military is creating a group that will work directly with journalists in the country and from around the world. She said the initiative’s goals are “to guarantee free speech during war time, to guarantee a clear message based on truth and facts from the journalist standpoint during wartime and also to ensure that we have free speech, and free thought among the press post victory in Ukraine.” Ashton-Cirillo also told the Blade that her gender identity is “becoming less of a spectacle among the international press, and that’s important to me, too, as well.”
“There’s no denying I’m trans. I don’t hide it,” she said. “I’m very proud to be a member of the LGBT community. My work and my focus is on this war, this liberation for Ukrainians and liberty for everyone who cares about freedom, and that includes trans people. That includes Crimean Tatars, that includes any immigrants from the Global South that live in Ukraine.”
“This victory will help strengthen the LGBT community around the world because there’s going to be one less country that will be able to persecute Ukrainians, LGBTQ members,” added Ashton-Cirillo. “We are going to inflict a transformative defeat upon the Russian invaders such that Russia themselves will have to look inward as to the mistakes they’ve made with human rights … and understand the price that they’re paying is very high for things like taking (Wall Street Journal reporter) Evan Gershkovich hostage.”
She also said she and her comrades “understand the cascading effect of a Ukrainian a clear transformative Ukrainian victory over Russia will have for human rights around the globe.”
Uzbek authorities harass activist at European development bank meeting
Authorities confiscated Nezir Sinani’s Pride tote bags
SAMARKAND, Uzbekistan — Uzbek authorities last week harassed an LGBTQ+ and intersex rights activist while he was attending a European Bank for Reconstruction and Development meeting that took place in the Central Asian country.
Nezir Sinani, who is from Kosovo, is the co-director of Re-course, which is based in the Netherlands.
He said Uzbek police on May 17 “started harassing and intimidating me, stopping me from entering the meeting venue (in Samarkand) and confiscating meeting materials.”
“This included the Uzbek police calling the (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) security officer asking for my info details,” said Sinani in a tweet.
May 17 was the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, which marks the World Health Organization’s declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1990. Uzbekistan is among the more than 60 countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.
Caspar Veldkamp, an EBRD board member from the Netherlands, on May 17 posted a picture of him with Sinani and two other activists holding Pride tote bags.
Sinani once he left Uzbekistan sent the Washington Blade a series of pictures that show security officials interrogating him outside the meeting.
He is holding Pride-themed tote bags in two of the pictures. Sinani said he and the other activists used them “to keep meeting files to distribute to EBRD counterparts we met.”
“Tote bags were not forbidden in the venue, but were still confiscated only because they were Pride-themed,” he told the Blade.
Veldkamp in an email to the Blade said he has “been in touch with” Sinani and “shared his information with the EBRD’s office of the secretary general, which gathers information regarding several incidents, including a similar one regarding my own staff.”
“They will follow up with the Uzbek authorities,” said Veldkamp.
Veldkamp told the Blade that Uzbek authorities have yet to respond.
The EBRD’s 32nd annual Meeting and Business Forum took place in Samarkand from May 16-19.
The State Department’s 2022 human rights report notes “at least four cases” of authorities forcing men to undergo so-called anal exams between 2017-2020. Anvar Latipov, a gay man from Uzbekistan who the U.S. has granted asylum, last month told the Blade during an exclusive interview in D.C. that a group of vigilantes broadcast online a video of a man they forced to sit on a bottle.
‘Criminalization and discrimination is completely unacceptable’
The State Department report cites other activists who said “members of the LGBTQI+ community in Tashkent (the Uzbek capital) were being harassed by both local authorities and private citizens and were on ‘red alert,’ and were seeking to avoid going out in public” after a group of men attacked blogger Miraziz Bazarov in 2022. Latipov told the Blade that transgender Uzbeks and people with HIV/AIDS face additional discrimination and persecution.
The Uzbek government previously kicked the EBRD kicked out of Uzbekistan after it criticized the country’s human rights record. Latipov noted to the Blade the EBRD now has $2.4 billion in 69 active projects in the country.
Latipov spoke with the Blade while he was in D.C. to lobby the World Bank Group and other multilateral development banks to pressure the Uzbek government to stop its persecution of LGBTQ and intersex people. Sinani and two other activists — Irena Cvetkovic, executive director of Coalitions Margins in North Macedonia, and Amarildo Fecanji, the Albania-based executive director of ERA – LGBTI Equal Rights Association for Western Balkans — were with Latipov.
“In Samarkand I attended the annual meetings of the EBRD with the aim of raising awareness on the brutal policies of Uzbekistan toward the LGBTI community,” Sinani told the Blade in a lengthy statement. “EBRD has a role to play to include the LGBTI community in its development projects to be able to fully deliver on its mandate.”
Sinani said he met with EBRD President Odile Renaud-Basso, EBRD board members and management “as part of my engagement there.”
“The Uzbek police stopped me from entering the meeting venue following a speech I held at the main meeting of EBRD board of directors with the civil society representatives,” Sinani told the Blade. “The police confiscated tote bags we used to handout reading marerials to the counterparts we met. Materials raised awareness on the brutal crackdown of Uzbek government on the LGBTI community in the country.”
“The behavior of the Uzbek police is a reflection of the situation in the country toward the LGBTI community. In this case they harrased and intimated me for the sole reason of raising awareness on the situation on the ground. With the LGBTI community in the country they go harsh, way harsh. They imprison them after doctors establish their sexual orientation via anal examinations, which WHO regards as a form of torture,” he said. “Such criminalization and discrimination is completely unacceptable and EBRD, alone the other international finance institutions, need to condemn and demand from the Uzbek government to repeal the law that enables them to hunt down the LGBTI community.”
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