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Mexico City shelter offers second chance for transgender residents

Casa Refugio Paola Buenrostro named after murdered trans sex worker

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Kenia Cuevas, founder of Casa Refugio Paola Buenrostro, a shelter for transgender people in Mexico City (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

MEXICO CITY — Alcohol and drugs were the only things that allowed Michel Ríos, 33, to cope with her fears and traumas when she engaged in sex work or tried to face her life as a person with a disability.

Ríos is a transgender woman from Mexico’s Veracruz state who lost one of her legs when she was seven and earned her family’s contempt from the moment she assumed a non-heteronormative sexual orientation and gender identity. Ríos was forced to leave home at 15 and began to earn a living on the streets, alone.

She began to seek help after several years.

Ríos found Casa Refugio Paola Buenrostro, a shelter in Mexico City that Casa de las Muñecas Tiresias, a local advocacy group, runs. She first arrived with the intention of becoming sober through an Alcoholics Anonymous program, but she ended up staying to rebuild her life.

Shelter named in honor of murdered trans sex worker

Kenia Cuevas, a renowned LGBTQ rights activist, founded Casa de las Muñecas after she witnessed the murder of her best friend, Paola Buenrostro, in December 2016 while they were both engaged in sex work. That tragic event was the final straw that motivated her to fight for her community.

Casa Refugio Paola Buenrostro opened its doors in January 2020.

“The mission of our organization is that those people who we welcome know their rights, that they can have a decent life, that they can understand life processes and we can rescue them from situations of vulnerability, of abandonment, when they believe that everything has been lost,” said Cuevas during an exclusive interview with the Los Angeles Blade via Zoom.

International News Editor Michael K. Lavers visited the shelter on Saturday and met with Cuevas.

“In short, what we do is create living conditions in accordance with human rights,” said Cuevas. “We have managed to give visibility to all the problems that trans people face on a day-to-day basis and of which society was not aware.”

Casa de las Muñecas has offices in Mexico City and in Mexico, Nayarit, Morelos and Guerrero states. It has a team of professionals who carry out a variety of services for trans people that includes support for legally changing their identity, legal advice and education workshops.

“We are also entering prisons to provide legal literacy to transgender people, workshops on culture, sports, addictions,” said Cuevas. “When they are released we then rescue them and take them to the home to continue their social reintegration.”

Casa de las Muñecas’ Mexico City shelter is named in honor of Buenrostro. Casa de las Muñecas also plans to open two additional shelters — one in the Mexican capital and another in Mexico state.

Casa de las Muñecas served 1,800 people in its first year of operation, which was 2018. The organization, according to Cuevas, had worked with upwards of 10,000 people last year.

Ríos arrived in July 2020 amid the pandemic. She said the shelter and its residents are now her family, because she has not seen her biological relatives since 2007.

“It is my home, a refuge from discrimination, violence, prostitution, drugs and alcohol,” Ríos told the Blade. “Staying here gives people the opportunity to grow, to achieve their dreams. It tells you that you can still dream. I am 41-years-old and I am dreaming. I am learning to dream here. The house has opened my horizons, it has given me the opportunity to be a different person.”

Ríos’ goal at the shelter is to learn the skills that will allow her to reintegrate into society. Ríos said she also hopes to help other people who may be in the same situation in which she was before she arrived.

“My goal is to finish my ‘prepa’ (high school diploma) and make a career for myself,” said Ríos, who hopes to become a designer.

This educational preparation is part of an intervention strategy that Casa de las Muñecas created in July 2020 to eliminate education disparities among the trans community.

“We do workshops aimed at economic autonomy, connecting them to the labor force,” said Cuevas. “It also allows for psychological support, access to health care, treatment for HIV or hormones, as well as the right to identity, either in their documents or the change of identity.”

Two residents of Casa Refugio Paola Buenrostro, a shelter for transgender people in Mexico City, on July 17, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Victoria Alejandra Arias, 33, a trans woman who is also from Veracruz state, learned while at the shelter that she is living with HIV. She was diagnosed at the shelter and now receives treatment.

Arias abused alcohol and drugs and was a sex worker.

She said her now ex-partner physically and emotionally abused her. He threatened and blackmailed Arias before they finally ended up in jail.

Arias recalled she was in a desperate physical and mental state when a friend brought her to the shelter on Jan. 7. She has found purpose in her life after less than five months.

“We have several workshops here, we go out to do exercises,” Arias told the Blade. “My life has changed in every way. I have improved in the physical sense because I got too thin. I used crack, a very addictive drug, and it really destroys people. My appearance is improving little by little. I know that I am on my way.”

“Women already have a profession because of all this support,” added Cuevas. “It will be easier for them to integrate themselves into society because they can come out (of here) a little more educated, empowered and know their rights and responsibilities.”

More than 20 people were living in the shelter when Cuevas spoke with the Blade, with 50 names on a waiting list. Canela and Leslie, two rescue dogs, also live at the shelter.

The Mexico City government pays the shelter’s rent and utilities, but donations that mostly come through social networks and people who provide furniture and other items support it. Cuevas donates around 70 percent of her salary.

“Our day at the house starts at 6 in the morning,” said Arias. “We make the bed, we bathe, we put on makeup and we go to our workshops, because part of this place’s goal is to re-educate ourselves.”

Ríos told the Blade the shelter offers English, theater, cosmetology, mathematics, Spanish, science and acting workshops.

“I’ve already imitated Paquita la del Barrio because I look a lot like her physically,” she said. “My favorite workshop is the theater — especially comedy — one because it goes great with my personality. The experience of acting is very beautiful. I have a lot of fun.”

Ríos said she and other workshop participants are preparing to premiere a play in December. She told the Blade they also perform at street festivals and in prisons.

Cuevas said she wants to open a headquarters for Casa de las Muñecas and a shelter in each of Mexico’s 32 states. Cuevas added she would like to expand her work throughout the rest of Latin America.

She said her greatest achievement is the gratitude and happy faces of those who have passed through the shelter.

“Thanks to this place I have regained my dignity,” said Ríos. “I want to live and, despite my disability and all the physical problems, I don’t let myself be defeated and I keep going.”

Arias, meanwhile, hopes to become a stylist “because I want to have a job.”

“I would like to finish my studies,” she said. “I see all those goals closer and stronger now and all that is for my life here. My greatest success is being clean and having goals in my life.” 

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South America

Argentina charges 10 police officers with murder of trans woman

The case has uncovered not only entrenched institutional violence, but also the ongoing struggle against impunity for hate crimes

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Mabel Valdez demands justice for her sister, Sofia Fernández (Courtesy photo)

By Esteban Rioseco | LA PLATA, Argentina – Argentine authorities have arrested 10 police officers and charged them with murdering a transgender woman in 2023.

In the historic development in the fight for LGBTQ justice in the country, the officers who were arrested on May 1 face murder and hate crime charges in connection with Sofia Fernández’s brutal death on April 11, 2023. The case has uncovered not only entrenched institutional violence, but also the ongoing struggle against impunity for hate crimes.

The initial investigation, which began last September, faced numerous obstacles, with only three points of expertise completed out of the 16 required for a formal indictment. Ignacio Fernandez, a lawyer who represents Sofia Fernández’s family, told the Washington Blade “the lack of confidence in the initial prosecutor and the need to recuse him marked the beginning of an arduous but vital legal battle.”

Ignacio Fernández described the long process to unravel the truth behind the brutal murder.

The legal and forensic teams faced numerous challenges that included coordination with gender-specialized prosecutors to the meticulous analysis of thousands of pieces of data on seized cell phones.

“The forensic report revealed the gruesome nature of the crime; Sofia was killed by asphyxiation with a piece of mattress and her own underwear, in addition to suffering beatings and physical torture,” Ignacio Fernández told the Blade. “The investigation also highlighted the alleged involvement of police officers in the crime, which triggered intense scrutiny of the conduct of law enforcement.” 

The indictment, according to Ignacio Fernandez, “not only covers the triple homicide, but also the cover-up and falsification of documents by seven other police officers.” 

“The application of a gender perspective in the judicial process has been crucial, underlining the importance of recognizing and addressing violence directed towards transgender people,” he added.

Ignacio Fernández represents Sofia Fernández’s family (Photo courtesy of Ignacio Fernández)

The road to justice, however, has been far from smooth. 

Despite the arrests, defense lawyers have requested the dismissal of certain charges, arguing the lack of hearings with the victim and rulings that could be questionable in their gender-specific perspective.

Sofia Fernández’s family, fearful for her safety, hopes the defendants will remain in pre-trial detention during the judicial process. They also yearn for a speedy and fair trial, aware that prolonged time may undermine the search for truth and justice.

Ignacio Fernández indicated “the inaction of the Ministry of Women of the province of Buenos Aires” is serious because “with Estela Diaz at the head, it is added that the defense lawyers of all the police officers charged and with a very clear conflict of interest are from the Directorate of Police Legal Counsel of the Ministry of Security of the province of Buenos Aires.”

Although the judicial investigation could take between two and four months, with possible delays due to legal appeals, it is estimated the trial could be delayed at least another year. The fight for justice, in the meantime, continues with the hope that Sofia Fernandez’s case will set a precedent in the fight against transphobic violence and impunity in Argentina.

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Photo Credit: Movilh

Esteban Rioseco is a Chilean digital communicator, LGBT rights activist and politician. He was spokesperson and executive president of the Homosexual Integration and Liberation Movement (Movilh). He is currently a Latin American correspondent for the Washington Blade.

On Oct. 22, 2015, together with Vicente Medel, he celebrated the first gay civil union in Chile in the province of Concepción.

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The Vatican

Pope: Priests can bless gays and lesbians, not same-sex unions

’60 Minutes’ broadcast Norah O’Donnell’s interview with pontiff on Sunday

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CBS Evening News anchor Norah O'Donnell, left, greets Pope Francis. ("60 Minutes" screenshot)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis said priests can bless gays and lesbians who are couples, as opposed to their unions, during an interview that “60 Minutes” broadcast on Sunday.

“What I allowed was not to bless the union. That cannot be done because that is not the sacrament. I cannot. The Lord made it that way. But to bless each person, yes. The blessing is for everyone,” he told CBS Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell.

Francis spoke with O’Donnell at Casa Santa Marta, his official residence at the Vatican.

“To bless a homosexual-type union, however, goes against the given right, against the law of the church. But to bless each person, why not?,” added Francis. “The blessing is for all. Some people were scandalized by this. But why? Everyone! Everyone!”

The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith late last year released a new document that elaborates on a letter Francis sent earlier in 2023 to five cardinals who urged him to reaffirm church teaching on homosexuality. 

Francis in the letter the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith released in October 2023 suggested priests could offer blessings to same-sex couples under some circumstances “if they didn’t confuse the blessing with sacramental marriage.”

“Ultimately, a blessing offers people a means to increase their trust in God,” reads the document. “The request for a blessing, thus, expresses and nurtures openness to the transcendence, mercy and closeness to God in a thousand concrete circumstances of life, which is no small thing in the world in which we live.”

Francis was the archbishop of Buenos Aires when Argentina’s marriage equality law took effect in 2010. He was among those who vehemently opposed the statute before then-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed it.

Francis has publicly endorsed civil unions for same-sex couples. He has also spoken out against laws that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

“It is a human fact,” Francis told O’Donnell.

The Vatican’s tone towards LGBTQ+ issues has softened since Francis assumed the papacy in 2013, even though church teachings on gender identity and other topics has not changed. Francis during the interview sharply criticized conservative American bishops who “oppose” his “new efforts to revisit teachings and traditions.” 

“You used an adjective, ‘conservative.’ That is, conservative is one who clings to something and does not want to see beyond that. It is a suicidal attitude,” he told O’Donnell. “Because one thing is to take tradition into account, to consider situations from the past, but quite another is to be closed up inside a dogmatic box.” 

CBS will broadcast O’Donnell’s full interview with Francis on Monday at 10 p.m. ET.

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World

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

LGBTQ+ news stories from around the globe including ILGA-Europe, Liechtenstein, Georgia, United Kingdom, Taiwan and New Zealand

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ILGA-EUROPE

An LGBTQ Rainbow flag and the flag of the European Union flying near Brussels, Belgium offices of the International Lesbian and Gay Association—Europe (ILGA-Europe) (Photo Credit: ILGA-Europe)

BRUSSELS, Belgium – The International Lesbian and Gay Association—Europe (ILGA-Europe) released its annual Rainbow Europe Map module ranking countries across the continent on the status of LGBTI rights, revealing that many countries are falling behind as political pressure from far-right politicians grows.

The report was released May 15, just a day after the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency released its own report detailing a shocking growth in violence experienced by LGBTQ people across member states over the past year.

“Across Europe, LGBTI people are being targeted by hate speech and violence and their human rights are being actively undermined, yet we still see too many countries across the region stalling in moving legal protection forward and not renewing their commitments through national strategies and action plans,” says ILGA-Europe’s Advocacy Director, Katrin Hugendubel.

“This non-action is dangerous, as without proper legislation in place to protect minorities, including LGBTI people, it will be much too easy for newly elected governments to quickly undermine human rights and democracy.”

Once again, Malta held the lead in the country rankings, as it has for the past nine years, scoring 88% across ILGA-Europe’s categories of equality and nondiscrimination law, family recognition, hate crime and hate speech laws, legal gender recognition, intersex bodily integrity, civil society space, and asylum policies. 

Iceland jumped to second place with 83% after passing new laws banning conversion therapy and facilitating legal gender recognition. Belgium reached third place with 78% after banning conversion therapy.

At the other end of the spectrum, Russia (2%), Azerbaijan (2%), and Turkiye (5%) hold the bottom rankings amid ongoing crackdowns on LGBT rights and expression in all three countries. Last year, Russia banned “the LGBT movement” as an “extremist organization.”

Several countries jumped up the rankings in this year’s report, including Greece and Estonia, which both legalized same-sex marriage. Liechtenstein collected points for extending adoption rights to same-sex couples, although it did not collect points for legalizing same-sex marriage, which happened the day after the report was released.

Germany, Bulgaria, Iceland, and Slovenia all collected points for passing legislation on hate crimes and hate speech, while Belgium, Cyprus, Iceland, Norway, and Portugal all collected points for banning conversion therapy. 

But the changes haven’t all been positive. Several countries tumbled down the rankings as progress stalled on LGBTQ rights. Montenegro, Finland, Spain, Sweden, and Slovenia all lost points because their governments failed to renew action plans to promote LGBT rights. The report also noted the looming threat of right-wing governments across Europe, including in Italy where the national government has restricted the recognition of same-sex parents, and in several countries which are eying restrictions on legal gender recognition and trans health care, including France, UK, Slovakia, and Croatia. 

The UK once occupied the top spot on ILGA-Europe’s rankings, but has fallen to 15th place as other countries press ahead on LGBT rights while the UK’s Conservative government has increasingly come under the sway of an anti-trans moral panic.

LIECHTENSTEIN

Parliament of Liechtenstein building, Vaduz. (Photo Credit: Principality of Liechtenstein)

VADUZ, Liechtenstein – The Alpine microstate Liechtenstein saw its Parliament give final approval to legalizing same-sex marriage in a near-unanimous vote Wednesday.

By a vote of 24-1, Parliament approved a series of bills that would amend marriage law to allow same-sex couples to marry in the country of about 30,000 people nestled between Switzerland and Austria. The only “no” vote came from an MP from the right-wing populist Democrats for Liechtenstein party.

The new law will come into effect on Jan 1, 2025, as long as it is not vetoed by the Prince or challenged in a citizen-initiated referendum. The Prince is not expected to veto the bill, as he has previously expressed support for same-sex marriage. 

Under the new law, no new civil unions will be registered, although same-sex couples already in same-sex unions will be allowed to continue their unions. 

Liechtenstein’s Parliament had already amended the law to allow same-sex couples to adopt last year, following an order from the Constitutional Court. 

The tiny, conservative-leaning and mostly Catholic country has been slow to adopt LGBT rights. It lacks any legal protections from employment discrimination or anti-LGBT hate crimes. 

ILGA-Europe ranked Liechtenstein 33rd out of 48 states in Europe, with a score of 28% on its latest Rainbow Europe Map. This decision on marriage will likely see it rise somewhat in the rankings next year.

The Catholic Church has previously strongly rejected same-sex marriage. Last year, the country’s archbishop Wolfgang Haas had called same-sex marriage a “diabolical attack against the Creator’s will to salvation,” and cancelled a planned service for opening of parliament in protest of the law. Haas has since retired.

The decision makes Liechtenstein the last German-speaking country to legalize same-sex marriage.

In a state posted to its Facebook group, the Liechtenstein LGBT advocacy group FLay thanked the lawmakers and other supporters who helped get same-sex marriage legalized in the country. 

“We are looking forward to introducing marriage for all per 1 January 2025 and thank you to all who have fought for it,” the statement said.

Liechtenstein is the 22nd European country to introduce same-sex marriage, bringing the global total to 38 countries. A bill before the Thai senate is expected to pass before the summer, which would make it the 39th.

GEORGIA

Screenshot from DW Germany’s live-stream YouTube coverage of massive protests in the Republic of Georgia capital city of Tbilisi against actions taken by the Georgian Parliament this past week.

TBILISI, Georgia – The government of the former Soviet republic of Georgia says it is close to finalizing a new law against so-called LGBT propaganda inspired by similar laws passed in Russia and Belarus in recent years, in what critics say is an attempt to maintain power by stoking divisions on a culturally sensitive issue.

The Georgian capital of Tbilisi has been rocked by protests for weeks as the ruling Georgian Dream party reintroduced a controversial “Foreign Agents” bill inspired by a similar Russian law, which requires any organization that receives funding from out of the country to register with the government as “organizations serving the interests of a foreign power.” 

Critics say the bill is intended to silence and discredit media and civil society that is critical of the government.

Friday saw intense protests marked by anti-government and pro-European demonstrators marking the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia while anti-LGBTQ protesters, including prime minister Irakli Kobakhidze and church leaders took to the streets to mark the government’s competing “Family Purity Day,” Reuters reported.

The party had first introduced the foreign agents bill last year, but withdrew it after months of protests and condemnation from European Union countries. The government reintroduced the bill this spring, with some observers suggesting it’s an attempt to tip this October’s national elections in their favor. For weeks, protesters have attempted to halt passage of the law, but Parliament gave it final approval May 14. It was vetoed by president Salome Zurabishvili on Saturday, but the government has enough votes in parliament to override the veto.

The proposed anti-LGBTQ law would amend article 30 of the Georgian Constitution to include a host of regulations restricting LGBTQ rights. It would ban recognition of same-sex relationships, ban adoption by gay people or same-sex couples, ban medical interventions to facilitate gender change, restrict recognition of gender to that of biological sex, and ban advocacy for recognition of same-sex couples or trans people.

To pass, the bill would require at least a ¾ vote of parliament (113 votes), or a 2/3 vote (100 votes) in each of two successive parliaments. The government currently controls 84 of the 150 seats in parliament, but likely believes it can pull enough votes from the opposition to pass the constitutional law.

Critics have noted that both laws put Georgia’s application to join the European Union in jeopardy as they clearly attack the fundamental rights at the heart of the Union. But while the EU has been sharply critical of the foreign agents law, its criticism of the anti-LGBTQ law has been far more muted. 

Local activists say that the EU’s silence has been strategic, as any criticism would play into the hands of Georgian Dream, who claim that LGBTQ rights are a “pseudo-liberal ideology” advanced by a decadent West.

The timing of the bill is likely meant to further divide the opposition as protests mount against the foreign agents law. Georgian Dream has been sliding in the polls since it was returned to power in 2020, but still commands a plurality of support compared to the highly fractured opposition according to most polls. 

Georgian Dream politicians have deep ties to Russia, and have increasingly sided with Russia in international and cultural disputes, including by refusing to impose sanction against Russia for the invasion of Ukraine. The support is ironic, considering that Russian forces invaded Georgia in 2008 and continues to support two unrecognized breakaway republics that resulted from that war.

On Friday, Republican Congressman Joe Wilson of the House Foreign Affairs Committee announced that he plans to introduce legislation to sanction Georgian leaders over their assault on democracy and introduce incentives for the government to reverse course.

ILGA-Europe ranked Georgia 36th out of 48 countries, with a score of just 25% on its most recent Rainbow Europe Map this week.

UNITED KINGDOM

10 Downing Street in London is the official residence and offices of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of the United Kingdom. (Photo Credit: Government of the UK)

LONDON, UK – The Conservative government of the UK has directed schools in England to ban discussion of gender identity in schools and restrict sex education for children under age 9, in an update to statutory guidance issued to schools that is currently under review.

Although the guidance has not yet been released or put into effect, LGBTQ activists and government critics are already comparing the guidance to the notorious Thatcher-era Section 28, which banned discussion of homosexuality in all schools across the UK from 1988 until it was repealed in England and Wales in 2003 and in Scotland in 2000. 

The UK has long been in the grip of an anti-trans moral panic, fostered by segments of the ruling Conservative Party that are hostile to trans people and influential British celebrities like Harry Potter creator JK Rowling who has long campaigned against trans people’s rights.

Last week, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak appeared on ITV’s daytime talk show Loose Women, where he complained that “gender ideology” was infiltrating UK schools. 

“Children were being exposed to lots of different things,” Sunak said. “You know, we’ve got lots of people talking to kids, they were talking about [how] you can have 72 different gender identities.”

There is no evidence that children in UK schools are being taught that there are 72 different gender identities or are being taught to engage in inappropriate behavior.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who was recently reelected to a third term, blasted the government’s new policy as being harmful to the children the government claims to want to protect.

“We’ve just got to be a bit aware when we have these conversations that we’re conscious about the impact that this has on trans young people,” he said.

“Many of these people – young people – learn about these things through social media. You know, the proliferation of porn, and also the proliferation of misogynists like Andrew Tate. If we’re delaying proper, responsible teaching until later on, I worry about who’s going to be rebutting some of the nonsense on social media.”

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan tried to mollify critics by claiming that the new policy will not restrict discussion of adults who have undergone gender reassignment. 

“Gender reassignment” is listed as protected characteristic under the 2010 Equality Act, but the act does not list “gender identity” or “gender expression” as protected characteristics. 

“Let me be clear on gender ideology in schools,” Keegan said on BBC Radio 4’s Today. “The thing that we’re trying to stop is not gender reassignment. Gender reassignment is something that is a protected characteristic – that adults are allowed to reassign their gender, there’s a process that they go through for that. That is a protected characteristic, and that can be taught.

“Gender identity and ideology is something different, and this is part of probably similar campaign groups that have been building this set of materials and this ideology,” she said.

Jo Morgan, the chief executive of Engendering Change, an organization that provides sex education workshops in schools, disputed the idea that schools are teaching children to be trans.

“They are concerned that schools are becoming breeding grounds for transgenderism. There’s no evidence to support that. What we are doing as educators is saying, this is in the news, in social media, it’s everywhere – let’s unpack it together and look at what sources of information you are being exposed to, let’s talk about how this relates to the Equality Act,” Morgan told The Guardian.

ILGA-Europe ranked the UK 15th out of 48 countries with a score of just 52% on its most recent Rainbow Europe report, citing a lack of legal protections for trans people and outdated procedures for legal gender recognition. 

TAIWAN

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen with Taiwanese drag queen Nymphia Wind, winner of season 16 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. (Screenshot/YouTube Livestream)

TAIPEI, Taiwan – Outgoing Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen hosted RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Nymphia Wind at a ceremony at her presidential office May 15, in a sign of the growing acceptance of LGBT people in the Asian island nation.

The Taiwanese-American performer Nymphia Wind was crowned the winner of season 16 of RuPaul’s Drag Race in an episode that aired April 19, taking home the crown and scepter and a cash prize of $200,000. She is the first person of East Asian descent to win the long-running reality competition series. American drag artist Raja, who is of Dutch-Indonesian ancestry, was the Drag Race first winner of Asian descent after taking the crown in season 3.

Tsai had been quick to offer her congratulations to Wind, posting a message on Instagram just days after her victory. Less than a month later, Wind was in her office, where she performed a trio of songs in full drag – Lady Gaga’s “Marry the Night,” Taiwanese singer Huang Fei’s “Chase, Chase, Chase,” and Jolin Tsai’s gender equality hit “Womxnly,” which she performed with a quintet of backup dancers in drag.  

“I want to thank you for demonstrating your fearless beauty, standing up and breaking down barriers,” Tsai said to Wind after her performance, noting that her win “will bring courage to many young people in Taiwan, so they stay fearless and stay true to their hearts.”

Under Tsai’s leadership, Taiwan has become a bastion of liberal values, including progressive attitudes toward LGBTQ people. Among recent landmarks, Taiwan legalized same-sex marriage and adoption, and it banned conversion therapy, and the capital Taipei hosts East Asia’s largest Pride Festival. 

“Thank you for your contributions to this country, so that I could grow up to be like this today,” Wind told Tsai after her performance. “Thank you for your eight years of dedication, becoming our Taiwan mother.”

Tsai is due to step down May 20. Her successor, Vice President Lai Ching-te, last year became the most senior government official to march in Taipei’s Pride parade.

NEW ZEALAND

Wellington Regional Hospital, Wellington, New Zealand.
(Photo Credit: Wellington Regional Hospital/Tom Ackroyd)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Activists are calling for greater access to gender-affirming surgeries after the New Zealand Medical Journal published a report of a trans teenager who attempted a self-mastectomy at home and had to be treated at hospital.

The teenager, an eighteen-year-old high school student, had reportedly watched a “how to” video on YouTube and prepared instruments for the surgery himself. He went to the hospital hours into the surgery after he became concerned that he had damaged a nerve while attempting to remove his left breast. 

Surgeons at the hospital then removed both breasts, and he was discharged a day later. The report notes that the boy reported higher confidence and self-esteem at a post-operation interview a month later. The hospital’s mental health team assessed that he did not have a psychiatric disorder and was not suicidal, but that he had attempted the surgery as an act of desperation.

“Due to the long wait times of referral in the public healthcare system, an inability to afford a private consultation and the significant psychological stress of having breasts at an upcoming pool party he planned to complete a bilateral (double) self-mastectomy at home,” wrote the report’s authors, Wellington Regional Hospital doctors Mairarangi Haimona, Sue Hui Ong and Scott Diamond.

Gender-affirming surgeries are covered by New Zealand’s healthcare system, but wait times for surgeries can be lengthy – ten years or longer for “bottom surgery” by the only doctor in the country who performs it. 

Top surgery can be accessed in the parallel private system for around NZ $15,000 (approximately US $9,200) and is generally not covered by private health insurance, putting it out of reach for many. 

Transgender people often need to self-advocate for care in the public health system, but with increasing demand and associated psychological and possible physical harm it’s crucial for public services to be more accessible to an under-served population,” the report’s authors concluded.

Self-surgery is an incredibly risky option for trans people – complications can range from scarring to infection to death. And the surgeries may not even work if the patient is taken to the hospital and patched up due to complications. 

Te Ahi Wi-Hongi, executive director of the advocacy group Gender Minorities Aotearoa, urges any trans person considering home surgery to avoid it and “hang in there.”“It might seem right now it’s completely hopeless, but we went from a 40-year waiting list for genital reconstruction surgery to 10 years or less when in 2019 the Government made changes [announcing $3 million funding for genital gender-affirming surgery],” Wi-Hongi told the New Zealand Herald.

Global LGBTQ+ news gathering & reporting by Rob Salerno 

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South America

Peru classifies transgender people as mentally ill

President Dina Boluarte signed decree on May 10

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Government Palace in Lima, Peru (Photo courtesy of the Peruvian government)

LIMA, Peru — The Peruvian government on May 10 published a decree that classifies transgender people as mentally ill.

Human Rights Watch on Wednesday noted the country’s Essential Health Insurance Plan that President Dina Boluarte, Health Minister César Vásquez and Economic and Finance Minister José Arista signed references “ego-dystonic sexual orientation.” The decree also notes, among other things, “transsexualism” and “gender identity disorder in childhood.

Human Rights Watch in its press release notes the Health Ministry subsequently said it does not view LGBTQ identities as “illnesses.” Peruvian LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, however, have sharply criticized the decree.

“This decision is an alarming setback in our fight for the human rights of trans people in Peru, and it represents a serious danger to our health and well-being,” said Miluska Luzquiños, a trans activist who works with the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Trans People, which is known by the Spanish acronym REDLACTRANS, on her Facebook page.

A lack of legal recognition and protections has left trans Peruvians vulnerable to discrimination and violence.

Luisa Revilla in 2014 became the first trans person elected in Peru when she won a seat on the local council in La Esperanza, a city in the northwestern part of the country. 

She left office in 2019. Revilla died from COVID-19 in 2021.

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Africa

Kenyan advocacy group offers safety tips to LGBTQ+ hookup app users

Blackmail, kidnappings and assaults are commonplace

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(Bigstock photo)

MOMBASA, Kenya — The growing cases of queer people in Africa becoming victims of blackmail, physical and sexual assault from online hook-ups have compelled a Kenyan LGBTQ+ rights group to work with the community to help it stay safe when using digital platforms.

Upinde Advocates for Inclusion held a 3-day training from May 11-14 to teach queer people about unsafe social media and dating app hook-up practices that suspected homophobes exploit.

The Mombasa-based group of which Lizzie Ngina is executive coordinator noted lesbian, bisexual and queer women, and gender non-conforming people are the most frequent targets online and on Grindr and other dating apps.

 “LBQ women and GNC persons confront major challenges in terms of digital security and data protection, freedom of expression, assembly, association, speech, privacy, protest and online organizing,” Upinde Advocates for Inclusion stated.

Although the digital platforms were seen as convenient meet-up places for LGBTQ+ people in overcoming physical anti-gay attacks, Upinde Advocates for Inclusion said anti-gay discrimination, marginalization, gender-based violence, misinformation, and disinformation limits LGBTQ+ and gender non-conforming people from accessing the social media services.    

Queer people while using dating apps and social media for hookups were, however, urged to first trust their intuition before deciding to have a physical meeting with people with whom they chat online.

“If it does not seem like someone you are messaging is using their true identity, they probably are not. In this case, do not agree to meet them in person,” Upinde Advocates for Inclusion warned. 

It asked LGBTQ+ users to ensure the first in-person meeting with someone they met online is in a public place that is queer-friendly and known to them. Upinde Advocates for Inclusion also advised queer people to inform their trusted friends or family about their meeting plans, the place, and how long they expect it will take place in order to ensure someone can intervene if something goes wrong.

“Organize your own means of transport to and from the meeting, and do not accept a free ride from a stranger,” the group warned. “Also, do not move to a secondary location if you feel unsure during the meeting.” 

Upinde Advocates for Inclusion also warned queer app users to remain sober during the meeting and cautioned against leaving their food or drinks unattended in order to avoid any potential risks associated with spiking.

The National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Ishtar-MSM and other Kenyan LGBTQ+ advocacy groups that offer legal aid to queer people last year reported about 100 cases of blackmail, extortion, physical and sexual assault against their members by suspected homophobes they met on dating apps and social media.

The two organizations this month noted 10 of the cases are expected before courts soon, although they said most victims of anti-gay attacks don’t report them to the authorities because they fear further stigmatization and discrimination. Consensual same-sex sexual relations also remain criminalized in Kenya. 

Targeting the LGBTQ+ community on digital platforms and dating apps is not unique to Kenya.

The Washington Blade last month reported it is still risky for queer Nigerians to search for a partner or to use gay dating apps infiltrated by homophobes who lure them to meet in-person and then rob or assault them. South African authorities last year arrested four men in connection with the targeting of Grindr users.

LGBTQ+ Kenyans urged to protect themselves at protests

Upinde Advocates for Inclusion in their workshop taught participants about the signs that suspected homophobes or their associates have compromised their devices. They include unusual activities on their cell phones that include calls with untraced history, disappearing blank messages, blinking screens, high data consumption, devices that overheat when not in use and echo when picking calls and quick battery depletion with minimal use.

“If you suspect your device is compromised, do not format or reset it, log out all the accounts, find an alternative device to use, change the password for the accounts on the device, and do not connect the gadget to any other devices,” Upinde Advocates for Inclusion warned. 

The group also taught queer people about how they should conduct themselves when taking part in street protests amid anti-gay attacks. Upinde Advocates for Inclusion advised them to always to identify safe alternative routes to and from the protests, wear comfortable running shoes, and always carry a spare outfit that is not LGBTQ+-specific.

“If you are in a group, always strategize on having a meeting point should there be any danger or should you get separated,” the group stated. “Also, try to split up responsibilities among the group so that one person can’t be targeted.”

Upinde Advocates for Inclusion also urged queer people to always leave a protest before it ends, to have an emergency contact on speed dial or memorize it for immediate help in case of danger and to always to keep in touch with a trusted contact who is familiar with the protest but not attending it. 

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European Union

Gay man from Ukraine struggles to rebuild life in Berlin

Dmytro Shapoval arrived in Germany in March 2022

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Dmytro Shapoval in Berlin on April 15, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Editor’s note: International News Editor Michael K. Lavers was on assignment in Berlin from April 12-15.

BERLIN — A gay Ukrainian man with HIV who fled his war-torn country more than two years ago remains in Berlin.

Dmytro Shapoval first spoke with the Washington Blade in July 2022.

He was working at an IT company’s call center and studying web and UX design in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, when Russia launched its war against his country on Feb. 24, 2022. Shapoval less than a month later swam across a river with his cat Peach and entered Poland.

He arrived in the German capital on March 19, 2022.

“I feel very secure here,” said Shapoval when he first spoke with the Blade on July 22, 2022, during a reception that took place at the end of a two-day meeting with European activists the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration organized.

Shapoval again spoke with the Blade on April 15 while he was at ORAM’s offices near Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz.

He said he was sleeping on a mattress on the kitchen floor of a Ukrainian friend’s apartment in Berlin’s Wedding neighborhood, while looking for a more permanent place to live. 

Shapoval had just finished an IT course at a private university, but told the Blade he “was not in that headspace to study” because of the depression from which he said he suffers. Shapoval also told the Blade the German government has postponed his residency permit for a year.

“It’s challenging,” he said.

Germany has granted temporary protection to nearly 1 million Ukrainians

The German government has granted temporary protection to more than 900,000 Ukrainians since the war began. (The U.N. Refugee Agency says there are 2.2 million refugees in Germany.)

Ukrainians are able to enter Germany without a visa.

The German government offers those who have registered for residency a “basic income” that helps them pay for housing, food and other basic needs. Ukrainian refugees can also access health care, language classes, job training programs and childcare. 

Shapoval and other single Ukrainian refugees receive €563 ($609.30) a month through the program.

Shapoval told the Blade it is difficult for him to find a job because his legal status remains uncertain. He also complained about German bureaucracy, which he described as “such a hell here.”

A memorial to Ukrainians who have died during Russia’s war against their country in Berlin on April 13, 2024. The memorial was across the street from the Russian Embassy. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Shapoval’s mother remains in Dnipro, a city on the Dnipro River that is roughly 300 miles southeast of Kyiv.

He said the first year of the war was “pretty quiet” in Dnipro because it is not as big as Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa and other Ukrainian cities. Shapoval said the situation in Dnipro changed last fall.

Shapoval told the Blade a Russian missile hit a nine-story civilian building in the city.

“I had the worst day of my life because I knew that my mom was going to Dnipro,” he said.

Shapoval said the building the missile hit struck was close to his grandmother’s home.

“I was so horrified,” he told the Blade. “I was trying to call her to get in touch. She was not answering at all.”

Shapoval said his grandmother called him several hours after the attack. She told him the missile strike damaged the city’s communications infrastructure.

“It’s pretty horrible,” said Shapoval.

Shapoval spoke with the Blade hours before Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a controversial conscription law that seeks to replenish the country’s military. Zelensky last month also enacted a statute that lowers the minimum draft age from 27 to 25.

Shapoval said he does not want to go into the military, and has thoughts that he would die in the war. Shapoval also told the Blade he does not watch news reports about Ukraine because they exacerbate his depression.

“Just seeing these buildings destroyed and sometimes (at night when) people are sleeping there, or also (seeing) news about kids being stolen into Russia and then brainwashed there in these camps … is really bad,” he said.

Dmytro Shapoval in Berlin on July 22, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

‘You’re a white refugee, so everything’s fine’

Shapoval noted support for Ukrainian refugees in Germany has begun to wane.

He recalled a conversation he had at a queer bookstore in Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighborhood during which someone who he described as German asked him what its like to be a refugee.

“Without even letting me answer without any space, he’s like, ‘Oh, but you’re a white refugee, so everything’s fine,'” recalled Shapoval.

Hamas on Oct. 7, 2023, launched a surprise attack against Israel. 

Shapoval said the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip has pushed the conflict between Ukraine and Russia and the plight of Ukrainian refugees out of the headlines. He also recalled an exchange he had with a Syrian woman with whom he had become friends in Berlin after Oct. 7.

Shapoval said she wrote in an Instagram post that “one or two years of war in Ukraine, this amount of kids died and two months of war in Palestine, this amount of kids died.”

“I’m like, what the fuck is that?” he recalled. “It’s not a competition of dead babies.”

“The fact you put two in comparison already makes one side less valuable and one side more valuable, but it’s also different pain,” added Shapoval. “I know that it is also horrible there … it seems like people are not understanding that.”

Shapoval said he reached out to her and tried to explain his perspective.

“It’s a bit hard right now,” he told the Blade.  

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Africa

Uganda’s president meets with US ambassador

Unclear whether William Popp raised Anti-Homosexuality Act

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Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni meets with U.S. Ambassador to Uganda William Popp on May 10, 2024. (Photo courtesy of Museveni's X account)

Editor’s note: This article has been updated.

ENTEBBE, Uganda — Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on May 10 met with U.S. Ambassador to Uganda William Popp.

Museveni in a post to his X account described the meeting, which took place at his official residence in Entebbe, as “productive.”

“We discussed key issues, such as the upcoming Census, regional peace, and socio-economic development. I emphasized the need for an inclusive census for informed decision-making,” said Museveni. “I also shared my views on fostering peace and security in the region. Additionally, we discussed opportunities in transitioning our population from a rural-based pre-capitalist society to industry and services.”

statement the Ugandan Foreign Affairs Ministry released noted Popp “conveyed his appreciation for the president’s valuable time and wise counsel.” 

“He also acknowledged President Museveni’s extensive knowledge and experience, underscoring the importance of their continued dialogue in fostering a strong and mutually beneficial relationship between the United States and Uganda,” said the statement.

The statement further notes Foreign Affairs Minister Jele Odongo; Defense and Veterans Affairs Minister Jacob Oboth-Oboth; Rosette Byengoma of the Defense Ministry; and Lt. Gen. Samuel Okiding, who is deputy chief of the Ugandan defense forces, attended the meeting.

The meeting took place nearly a year after Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act that, among other things, contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The U.S. has sanctioned Ugandan officials and removed the country from a duty-free trade program. The World Bank Group also suspended new loans to Uganda in response to the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

The Ugandan Constitutional Court last month refused to “nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act in its totality.” A group of Ugandan LGBTQ+ activists have appealed the ruling.

It is not clear whether Popp raised the Anti-Homosexuality Act with Museveni during their meeting.

“We do not discuss the details of private diplomatic engagements; however, we have regularly raised with the highest levels of Ugandan government U.S. government concerns about democratic space, rule of law, and respect for human rights for all Ugandans, including members of the LGBTQI+ community in relation to the 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Act,” a State Department spokesperson told the Washington Blade on Wednesday.

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World

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

LGBTQ+ news stories from around the globe including Eurovision, United Kingdom, Poland, South Korea & Australia

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

EUROVISION

Eurovision Song Contest 2024: Nemo’s Press Conference (Screenshot/YouTube)

MALMO, Sweden – Swiss Singer Nemo won the Eurovision Song Contest with their operatic pop-rap song “The Code,” about their journey to accepting their nonbinary identity. 

“I went to Hell and back, To find myself on track, I broke the code,” Nemo sang in the chorus of his winning song.

Dressed in a frilly pink blouse and miniskirt, Nemo dazzled the audience at the Malmo Arena in Sweden, home to last year’s winner, Loreen.

Nemo’s win is the first win for Switzerland since Canadian singer Celine Dion competed under the Swiss flag in 1988.

The Eurovision Song Contest is an annual competition held by the European Broadcasting Union since 1956, in which representatives of all member states present original songs. The entrants are voted upon by a panel of judges and by viewing audiences, who award points to their ten favorite performances. 

Over the years, the competition has become well-known as a camp spectacle and a favorite event for the European LGBT community, with many high-profile queer competitors and winners, including Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst, who returned to this year’s show to perform a tribute to ABBA, who won the competition for Sweden with the song “Waterloo” in 1974.

This year’s UK entrant was openly gay performer Olly Alexander, formerly of the band Years & Years. His song “Dizzy,” a homoerotic pop-dance track that featured a quartet of dancing boxers, finished in 18th place with only 46 points, after receiving no points from the voting audience.

This year’s competition was not without controversy. 

The venue was met with a large protest demanding that Israel, which has competed in Eurovision since 1973, be removed from the competition due to the ongoing war in Gaza. Additional security measures were put in place for the competition

Israel’s entrant, Edan Golan, had been a favorite early in the competition, but her song “Hurricane” finished fifth. The song had also drawn controversy, and Golan was ordered to change the title and lyrics by the EBU from “October Rain” due to its references to the October 7 attacks on Israel. 

Golan travelled with agents of the Israeli Security Agency Shin Bet after death threats were made on her social media. 

Additionally, Dutch performer Joost Klein was disqualified ahead of the final competition after an alleged altercation with a female production staffer that has led to a police investigation.

UNITED KINGDOM

Actor Ian Gelder is best known for his role as Kevan Lannister in the HBO series Game of Thrones. (Screenshot/YouTube)

LONDON, United Kingdom – Actor Ian Gelder, best known for his role as Kevan Lannister in the HBO series Game of Thrones has passed away at age 74, five months after he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.

Gelder’s husband Ben Daniels announced his passing in a post on Instagram on Tuesday.

“It is with huge, huge sadness and a heavy heart broken into a million pieces that I’m leaving this post to announce the passing of my darling husband and life partner Ian Gelder,” Daniels wrote in the caption of a photo taken of the couple at Christmas, shortly after Gelder’s first round of treatment for his cancer.

“He was my absolute rock and we’d been partners for more than 30 years. If we weren’t together, we spoke to each other every day. He was the kindest, most generous spirited and loving human being. He was a wonderful, wonderful actor and everyone who worked with him was touched by his heart and light,” Daniels wrote.

Gelder was diagnosed with bile duct cancer in December. Such cancers are often not detected by health care providers until they have spread to other parts of the body. 

Gelder had a long career in film and television and on the British stage, frequently appearing on London’s West End and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. 

Among his numerous television appearances was a stint on the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood, and the celebrated UK sitcom Absolutely Fabulous.

POLAND

Polish Equalities Minister Katarzyna Kotula, center, with two participants of the Equality March in Łódź. (Photo Credit: Equalities Minister Katarzyna Kotula/Facebook)

ŁÓDŹ, Poland – Declaring that she would “go to hell and make a deal with the devil” to advance the rights of Poland’s LGBTQ community, Equalities Minister Katarzyna Kotula joined the Equality March in Łódź, the country’s fourth-largest city, on May 11.

The March was the 13th edition of the event, and the first time it had been attended by a government minister. 

Last year, Poland elected a new government coalition of center-left leaning parties that have pledged to support LGBT rights, a sharp contrast to the right-wing, LGBT-hostile government that preceded them. 

Still, the government has been slow to act on its stated promises to the LGBT community, including a law on civil unions, a ban on hate speech, and a gender recognition act, amid squabbling from more conservative members of the coalition. 

Kotula has said that she’s waiting to introduce the civil union bill until she can get agreement from the coalition on key sticking points, including adoption rights. 

“For civil partnerships, for marriage equality, for the Gender Reconciliation Act, for dignity and human rights for the LGBT community, I will go to hell and make a pact with the devil. I promise that when we meet here next year, at least some of these demands will be implemented,” Kotula said at the March. “I will do everything to take care of your dignity and your safety.”

The organizers of the march, The Equality Factory, are calling for even greater rights, including full marriage equality, abortion and contraception rights, comprehensive sex education in schools, and facilitation of medical treatment for gender transition. 

“We are marching because words about equality cannot be thrown around. We are not a bargaining chip. We were promised something and the election promises should be fulfilled. The most important requirement to be implemented is the Act on civil partnerships. This is not only about LGBTQ+ people, but also about protecting heterosexual people in relationships, because there is no such thing as cohabitation in Polish law. This should be important for all Poles,” Ida Mickiewicz-Florczak from the Equality Factory told the Polish news site Odaka.

Even if the civil partnership law passes through Parliament, it may face a veto from President Andrzej Duda of the opposition Law and Justice Party, which has vociferously opposed LGBT rights. So far, Duda, who will be in office until presidential elections in May 2025, has not indicated how he will act on the bill, stating he’s waiting until it is introduced to comment.

SOUTH KOREA

Seoul Queer Culture Festival 2022 (Screenshot/YouTube)

SEOUL, South Korea – The Seoul Queer Culture Festival has found a new home after two years of struggle with the city council repeated denying permits for the annual festival.

The Queer Culture Festival had been held at Seoul Plaza at city hall ever since 2015, but last year it was denied a permit, which the conservative-leaning city council decided to give to a Christian youth concert instead. This year, the city council has announced that the plaza is being used for a outdoor library all through spring and summer, effectively blocking all event applications.

“I think Seoul city is focusing on events that only suit its taste,” Yang Sun-woo, chief organiser of the festival, told Reuters. “If Seoul cared about LGBT people, they would have understood the significance of the event,” Yang said.

In response, organizers of the Queer Culture Festival have decided this year’s edition will take place on a several blocks in downtown Seoul, which only required the permission of police, rather than city council.

The festival, which takes place over two weeks in June, kicks off with a parade on June 1 and will feature a queer film festival, live performances, and 60 booths for vendors and interactive events.

For its part, Seoul City Council denies that anti-LGBT discrimination played a part in its decision to twice deny permits for the event. 

The city government said it is “always listening to voices and providing necessary support to protect human rights of LGBTQ people as members of society,” in a statement.

The Queer Culture Festival was also denied a permit by the Seoul History Museum.

The US Embassy in Seoul will also support the event, as it has in previous years.

“As in past years, embassy representatives will join in Pride events worldwide, including here in the Republic of Korea, to raise awareness of the challenges faced by LGBTQI+ individuals,” the embassy told Reuters in a statement.

AUSTRALIA

City Council building, Cumberland, New South Wales. (Photo Credit: Cumberland NSW Government)

SYDNEY, Australia – Cumberland, New South Wales drew international headlines this week after its city council voted 6-5 to ban books on same-sex parenting from local libraries. Four councilors were not present for the May 1 vote.

The motion amends the council’s library strategy to order “That Council take immediate action to rid same sex parents books/materials in Council’s library service.”

The move from the council, which represents around 250,000 people in the western suburbs of Sydney, was swiftly condemned by residents, LGBT leaders, and representatives of the state government.

New South Wales Attorney-General Michael Daley has referred the motion to the state’s Anti-Discrimination Board for advice, while Arts Minister John Graham has warned the council that the new policy directive puts state library funding for the council in jeopardy, as it would breach public library guidelines. He’s asked council to reconsider the ban.

“It’s a terrible message to send, to have this councilor importing this US culture war into our country and playing it out on the shelves of the local library,” Graham said on a morning television show. “I think the community expectations are clear — the local councilor should be coming around to pick up their bin, not telling them what to read.”

Cumberland’s local council is dominated by the relatively LGBT-friendly Australian Labor Party, but the motion from Our Local Government Party Councilor Steve Christou carried with support from Liberal-Party-affiliated Independents and a single vote from a Labor councilor, who has since been condemned by the party.

The move comes just a few months after the same council voted to ban drag queen storytime events at local libraries.

Christou says the motion was inspired after he received complaints from constituents who saw the book Same-Sex Parents by Holly Duhig on display in the children’s section of a library. The book explores what it’s like to have two moms or two dads from a child’s perspective.

During the debate on the motion, Christou alleged that the book “sexualized” children and repeated dog-whistle allegations against queer people and parents.

“We’re going to make it clear tonight that … these kind of books, same-sex parents books, don’t find their way to our kids,” Christou said, according to The Guardian. “Our kids shouldn’t be sexualised.”

Christou said the proposed amendment was “for the protection and safety of our children”.

“Hands off our kids,” he repeated.

Christou has said the amendment was demanded by his community, which he says is a “very religious community,” despite the fact that a petition against the amendment garnered more than 10,000 signatures in 24 hours.

“This community is a very religious community, a very family-orientated community.

“They don’t want such controversial issues going against their beliefs indoctrinated to their libraries. This is not Marrickville or Newtown, this is Cumberland city council.”

The petition was launched by a Cumberland area grandmother to what she describes as a “rainbow family” Caroline Staples. Staples will present her petition to council on May 15. 

Global LGBTQ+ news gathering & reporting by Rob Salerno 

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Africa

South African president signs hate crimes, hate speech law

Advocates largely welcome new statute

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa during a campaign stop speaking with attendees at the ANC Party Rally on May 10, 2024 in Tshwane, Gauteng, SA (Office of President Cyril Ramaphosa/Facebook)

PRETORIA, South Africa — South African LGBTQ+ organizations have welcomed a new law that seeks to combat hate crimes and hate speech.

President Cyril Ramaphosa on May 9 signed the Preventing and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill that had been introduced in 2018.

According to the new law; the direct or indirect unfair discrimination against anyone on the grounds of age, albinism, culture, disability, ethnic or social origin, gender, HIV status, language, nationality, migrant, refugee status, asylum seekers, occupation, trade, political affiliation, conviction, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, sex characteristics or skin color is a criminal offense punishable by a fine or up to eight years in prison.

“A hate crime is committed if a person commits any recognized offense under any law that is motivated by prejudice or intolerance based on one or more characteristics or perceived characteristics of the victim, as listed in the legislation or a family member of the victim,” said the president’s office. “The law also makes it an offense when speech material is intentionally distributed or made available in electronic communication, and the said person knows that such electronic communication constitutes hate speech.”

Crimen injuria, the unlawful and intentional impairing of dignity or privacy of another person under common law, was in place before the new law. Crimen injuria, which to extent protected some forms of hate against the LGBTQ+ community, is still active.

The Preventing and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, however, is more comprehensive in the sense that it particularly focuses on hate speech and hate crimes, and therefore makes it easier to seek legal recourse than under crimen injuria.

“As Out, we commend President Cyril Ramaphosa on the move that he has made in making sure that the rights of LGBTQ+ persons are protected. We, as Out, also hope that other African countries can learn from this historic milestone that all people are equal and that their rights should be protected,” said Out LGBT South Rights Human Rights Coordinator Sibonelo Ncanana. 

Ncanana specifically applauded Deputy Justice and Constitutional Development Minister John Jeffrey and the working group that helped secure the bill’s passage.

“We hope that all government departments will enforce the mandate of the act,” said Ncanana. “We also hope that it will help in decreasing the amount of hate crimes that are happening in South Africa, create safer communities, and that LGBTQ+ people will find themselves safe.”

Ruth Maseko of Umndeni LGBTI Group and the Triangle Project said the new law creates a precedent of what constitutes hate crime and the repercussions.

“We are delighted at the passing of the bill after so many years, as it creates a legal definition of hate crimes,” said Maseko. “This now puts in place mechanisms for authorities to collect and report details about these incidents of hate for the effective monitoring, analysis of trends, and appropriate interventions that are needed.”

Maseko added that although the new law will aid in giving the courts a framework to work in when handling cases of hate, it will not really deter people from committing those crimes.

“The new law will provide quantitative and qualitative data as currently we have no way of telling how many of these crimes are committed. The only way we know, is when they are reported to a civil society organization or are reported in the media,” said Maseko.

“Although it will do nothing to change the attitudes of people who act out in these ways, the law does send out a message that hate crimes will not be tolerated in South Africa and will provide additional tools to investigators and prosecutors to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions,” added Maseko.

The law, however, does not consider actions undertaken in good faith as part of hate speech. They include artistic creativity, performance or other form of expression, academic or scientific inquiry fair, and accurate reporting or commentary in the public interest. 

It also excludes interpretation and articulating or espousing of any religious conviction, tenet, belief, teaching, doctrine or writing that does not advocate hatred or constitutes incitement to cause harm. The law also contains directives on training and other measures to be undertaken by the South African Police Service and the National Prosecuting Authority to ensure effective processing of the newly defined crimes. 

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South America

Lesbian couple dead after arson attack in Buenos Aires

LGBTQ groups in Argentina described the blaze as a hate crime because he had already threatened to kill the women because they are lesbians

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Screenshot from Policía de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires [Buenos Aires City Police] video taken after the arson firebombing of the room in the boarding hotel where Pamela Cobbas, her partner Mercedes Roxana Figueroa, and temporarily Sofía Castro Riglos and Andrea Amarante lived in the Barracas neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Editor’s note: Andrea Amarante on Sunday died from injuries she sustained in the fire.

By Esteban Rioseco | BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Two people died and at least five others were injured on Monday when a man threw a Molotov cocktail into the room of a Buenos Aires boarding house in which two lesbian couples lived.

The fire took place at around 1 a.m. in a house at 1600 Olavarría St., between Isabel la Católica and Montes de Ocoa in Buenos Aires’s Barracas neighborhood. The blaze forced roughly 30 people to evacuate, and the injured were taken to local hospitals.

Police say Justo Fernando Barrientos, 68, sprayed fuel and set fire to the room where Mercedes Figueroa, 52, lived together with Pamela Fabiana Cobas, 52, and Sofía Castro Riglos, 49, and Andrea Amarante, 42.

Figueroa and Cobas both died. Castro and Amarante are hospitalized at Penna Hospital in Buenos Aires.

Witnesses say the fire started on the second floor when Barrientos threw a Molotov cocktail inside the women’s room, and it soon spread throughout the property. LGBTQ organizations in Argentina have described the blaze as a hate crime because Barrientos had already threatened to kill the women because they are lesbians.

“We are in a rather complex context, where from the apex of power, the president himself and his advisors and downwards permanently instill a hate speech, instilling it when they close the (National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism or INADI), stigmatizing the population that is there and the vulnerable groups,” Congressman Esteban Paulón, a well-known LGBTQ activist, told the Washington Blade.

“All this is generating a climate of violence,” he said. “The fact that it happened in the city of Buenos Aires, which is terrible … has to be investigated.”

Paulón said President Javier Milei’s government has installed in the public discourse speeches and actions against the LGBTQ community that have provoked more violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

“All that is installed … and then there are people who fail to make a mediation of that, that fail to make a critical analysis of that and can end up generating an act of hatred like this, which is tragic and that already took the lives of two people,” he said.

The Argentine LGBT+ Federation on social media said it was looking for the victims’ families and friends, but has yet to be able to connect with them.

“We are going to stand by them, making ourselves available for whatever they and their families need, and we will closely follow the court case so that there is justice,” said the organization. “But we cannot fail to point out that hate crimes are the result of a culture of violence and discrimination that is sustained on hate speeches that today are endorsed by several officials and referents of the national government.”

100% Diversidad y Derechos, another advocacy group, demanded the investigation address the attack “with a gender perspective and as motivated by hatred towards lesbian identity.”

Barrientos has been arrested, and will be charged with murder. Activists have requested authorities add discrimination and hate provisions to the charges.

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Photo Credit: Movilh

Esteban Rioseco is a Chilean digital communicator, LGBT rights activist and politician. He was spokesperson and executive president of the Homosexual Integration and Liberation Movement (Movilh). He is currently a Latin American correspondent for the Washington Blade.

On Oct. 22, 2015, together with Vicente Medel, he celebrated the first gay civil union in Chile in the province of Concepción.

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