For Israel’s LGBTQ citizens, threats are no longer theoretical
Proposed judicial reforms could have wide-ranging impact
In 2023, millions are engaging in protests all around the world. People are making their voices heard in France, Mexico, Bangladesh, Hungary and Greece – just to name a few.
The specific events triggering civic action vary by location. But whether it’s pension reforms, election concerns, human rights, or rank government incompetence, it’s undeniable that the world is shaking. Among the common threads are an existential threat to democratic institutions.
At A Wider Bridge, we are closely connected to the manifestation of this international phenomenon in Israel.
Israelis from across the political spectrum are taking a stand for their democracy in an unprecedented manner. They have taken to the streets in historic numbers day after day, week after week, in patriotic displays of defiance. LGBTQ Israelis are on the front lines in a battle over legislation that most of them feel would dramatically undermine the independence of Israel’s judiciary. The stakes are high. The Israeli Supreme Court has been a bastion for advancing LGBTQ equality.
With a different court, LGBTQ Israelis could see protections ended for male couples and single men who have children via surrogacy. Same-sex couples married overseas might lose recognition of their unions, and with that, benefits from health insurance to inheritance, not to mention the implications for parents where one partner is non-Israeli. Protections for students and trans Israelis could evaporate. But there is more than the court in play. A new generation of extremist politicians have gained true power — and the bully pulpit. The reverberations are being felt far and wide — and the threat they pose to LGBTQ Israelis is no longer theoretical.
The Aguda, the Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel, just released its 2022 report on LGBTQphobia in Israel. The findings show that anti-LGBTQ hate has skyrocketed. It rose during an election cycle in which some extremist politicians railed against LGBTQ rights, and it skyrocketed after the early November election. It has affected almost every aspect of LGBTQ life in the country.
In total, there were 3,309 reports of LGBTQ abuse last year — an enormous increase, and double what was reported as recently as five years ago. Delving deeper into the data, the news gets even scarier: an eightfold increase in year-on-year discrimination reports involving services by businesses, a fivefold increase in LGBTQ abuse reports in the public sphere, a 53 percent increase in reports from trans individuals, and a sevenfold increase in LGBTQ abuse reports where the offending parties are public figures and in the media.
On top of that, fully 25 percent of these reports came in November and December — during the election campaign and immediately following the commencement of the new government.
Some have urged patience with Israel’s new government and advocate a wait-and-see approach. They say nothing bad has happened yet. Sadly, they are wrong.
While these extremist politicians, now leading important government ministries, have yet to deliver fully on pledges to remove LGBTQ education from schools, groups working in that sector say it has become increasingly difficult to do programs they routinely offered in the past. They have yet to ban Pride parades, end hormone treatments and gender-affirming care for trans people, or provide financial support for organizations that provide conversion therapy. But all of these anti-LGBTQ policies are on the table. Unfortunately for LGBTQ Israelis, there is no safety in adopting a wait-and-see approach.
Recently, a group of right-wing youth harassed protesters carrying Pride flags in Tel Aviv. They threw rocks at a building at which a Pride flag was displayed. They even climbed a balcony to tear it down. They were caught in the act on video and later identified. But for weeks, no arrests have been made. In response, thousands of pro-LGBTQ Israelis protested in front of the police headquarters in Tel Aviv — a city justifiably celebrated for its LGBTQ-friendly environment and with one of the highest percentages of LGBTQ residents in the world. They were protesting police inaction, fully cognizant that the municipal police are controlled by the Israeli Ministry of National Security under Itamar Ben-Gvir, an open homophobe who ran for office on a far-right slate with a radical anti-LGBTQ platform.
Was the lack of police action a result of top-down pressure? We don’t know. But we do know that the physical security of LGBTQ people is often dependent on the institutions that govern us.
We also know that we can never take our rights and our safety for granted. That’s true whether one is LGBTQ in Tel Aviv, Black in Missouri, or Jewish on the streets of New York City, where antisemitic violence is on the rise.
The legislation Israelis are protesting is but one symptom of a global phenomenon to wrest power from institutions that have advanced the equality of marginalized groups — LGBTQ people, women, racial minorities, immigrants and others. It is not difficult to connect the dots from Jerusalem to Florida to certain eastern European countries, where democratic norms are under attack in general, as are the rights of LGBTQ people in particular.
So what do we do in the face of these challenges? First, we recognize the challenges as real, acute, and demanding immediate action.
Then we organize. We protest. We don’t allow ourselves to be gaslighted by those who say all is well, when clearly it is not. All one has to do to appreciate the threats to LGBTQ people in Israel is to speak with a few LGBTQ Israelis.
Accordingly, A Wider Bridge has dramatically increased our support of LGBTQ groups through additional public advocacy and an emergency campaign to fund their pro-democracy work and meet needs for increased social services. Next month, we will travel to Israel to stand with our LGBTQ family. We will march with them at the Jerusalem March for Pride and Tolerance and host an English livestream to the world.
We continue to be inspired by Israel’s democracy movement, where the LGBTQ flag has become as common a sight in the streets as the Israeli flag itself. We will stand with them today — and every day — to protect Israel’s democratic and pluralistic character in the face of this emergency.
Ethan Felson is the executive director of A Wider Bridge.
South Africa’s non-alignment costing Africa’s human rights discourse
Country must take stronger stance against Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law
In the past several months, South Africa’s foreign policy has been in the spotlight for essential and existential reasons that significantly impact geopolitics and the continent’s stability.
The foreign policy for South Africa discussion document by the Department of International Relations highlights the “advancement of human rights and the promotion of democracy” as the pillars on which South Africa’s foreign policy rests. This document emphasizes the role that South Africa is expected to play in the “promotion of human rights and democracy.”
Minister Pandor echoed this document in her 2022 end-of-year remarks.
“We will continue with our unwavering position to advocate for a balanced Sustainable Development Program within the human rights framework as underlined in the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action (VDPA). In this regard, South Africa will be one of the chief proponents of a balanced agenda of the HRC, which reflects, among others, the primacy of achieving the realization of the right to development as well as moral human rights issues such as the eradication of poverty and underdevelopment.”
South Africa has long been known for its commitment to human rights and its leadership in the fight against apartheid. However, its foreign policy continues to be viewed as ambiguous and nonresponsive to developments in African affecting the growth of the continent.
In 2021, President Ramaphosa — as chair of the SADC Organ Troika — committed to a national political dialogue in Eswatini to resolve the political killings in that country. However, the South African government has never followed up or called on the Eswatini government to adhere to its commitment, even as renowned human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko was mercilessly assassinated in January 2023. At the very least, this has not been seen publicly, which would be comforting to those political activists and citizens constantly living in fear in Eswatini.
On May 29, the president of Uganda enacted the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Act. The new law is a throwback to colonization, where religious fanatism was the basis for the persecution and killing of many Africans. While Africa seems to take the posture of “fighting against imperialism,” it is saddening that this law is the brainchild of American zealots funding hate across Africa, whether it is in Uganda, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi or Namibia. These zealots, the Fellowship Foundation and many others, are well coordinated in their attacks on the judiciary and the African human rights framework, backed by the 75-year-old Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In an era where Africa is seen to be taking a stance against imperialism, I shudder to contemplate that hate may be the only imperialist agenda Africa is not actively standing up against. We know the history of petty offences like homelessness and loitering, sedition laws, and anti-LGBTI laws. These are remnants of colonization to keep Africa inferior and the colonial masters superior. Today, the hate continues through repressive and backwards sentiment being paraded as religious values. Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law criminalizes what it calls “aggravated homosexuality” with the death penalty. It would be hard to imagine what “aggravated homosexuality” even means.
This is another opportunity where South Africa’s posture and foreign policy must be spotlighted. With the growing conversation about the ICC arrest warrant of President Putin, South Africa has reiterated its foreign policy as non-alignment and non-interference.
However, when the question of human rights and democracy is at play, all must take a stand. This law has been widely criticized by human rights organizations and the international community for violating the rights of LGBTIQ+ individuals and hindering the fight against HIV. It further impedes what Minister Pandor called the “balanced agenda of the HRC,” which speaks to sustainable development within the human rights framework.
It should be worrying if South Africa continues to maintain a policy of non-alignment and non-interference in the face of the new law in Uganda. While this policy may have its merits, it raises questions about South Africa’s commitment to human rights and its role as a leader in Africa. A foreign policy that neglects the promotion of human rights and democratic principles is hypocritical. On the one hand, South Africa is seen as a leader in promoting LGBTIQ+ rights and has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world regarding protecting the rights of LGBTIQ+ individuals. However, on the other hand, it has failed to take a strong stance against Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law, which is a clear violation of human rights.
By maintaining this policy, South Africa is essentially condoning Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law and undermining the fight for human rights in Africa. This is particularly concerning given South Africa’s leadership role in the African Union and its commitment to promoting human rights and democracy.
South Africa’s foreign policy regarding Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law raises questions about its commitment to non-alignment and human rights in Africa. While non-interference may have its merits, it should not come at the expense of human rights and the fight for equality and justice.
South Africa must take a stronger stance against Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law and work towards promoting human rights and democracy in Africa.
Melusi Simelane is the Southern Africa Litigation Center’s Civic Rights Program Manager.
The long exhale to recognizing same-sex unions in Namibia
May 16 ruling a landmark moment for LGBTIQ+ rights
The Supreme Court of Namibia on May 16, 2023, issued a judgment recognizing same-sex unions of two non-nationals after they were denied immigration status by the Namibian government.
The story of Daniel Digashu, a South African national, and his family challenging the decision of the Namibian government denying him immigration status based on his same-sex marriage to his Namibian husband is just one of the many ways African governments continue to oppress and erase queer existence.
In 2015, Digashu married his partner Johann Potgieter in South Africa, where same-sex unions have been legal since Nov. 14, 2016; this, however, is not the case in Namibia. In 2017, after he and his family relocated to Namibia, Digashu applied for a work permit but got rejected by the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration based on his same-sex relationship status. The social inequality many LGBTIQ+ people face daily, and the lack of recognition and protection of LGBTIQ+ rights make them more vulnerable to stigma, discrimination and exclusion. Denying LGBTIQ+ people the right and the opportunity to marriage and family life has significant implications on their mental, emotional and overall well-being.
Heterosexual marriage is widely and legally recognized in Namibia and is often seen as the fundamental foundational family institution in society, including the church. The mainstream practice of marriage is deeply rooted in traditional, cultural and religious beliefs and practices. Marriage is not only a union between individuals but also a union between families and even different communities.
The denial to recognize Digashu and Potgieter’s marriage had deprived them of a chance and a right to have a family, a community and a sense of belonging in society. The couple has been in and out of court since 2017, when they approached the High Court after several unsuccessful engagements with the ministry.
On March 20, 2021, the High Court heard the case and dismissed the matter on Jan. 20, 2022, citing that they cannot legally overrule a previous judgement by the Supreme Court, which found that same-sex relationships are not recognized under the Immigration Control Act of Namibia.
Constitutional violation of human rights
The refusal of the recognition of same-sex unions is an infringement on several fundamental human rights recognized and protected under regional and international human rights instruments — including the Constitution of Namibia. Denying the recognition and protection of LGBTIQ+ marriage and family violates their rights to dignity, liberty, privacy and protection under the law. Such human rights violation is also discriminatory and violates the constitutional right to non-discrimination, equality before the law and freedom of expression based on one’s sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Recognizing same-sex marriage ensures that LGBTIQ+ people have the same legal protections and rights.
If it pleases the court
In its 2022 judgment, the High Court of Namibia 2022 made favorable pronouncements noting the need to recognize same-sex relationships and that LGBTIQ+ people must be protected from discrimination. The court stated that: “Homosexual relationships are, without doubt, globally recognized, and increasingly more countries have changed their laws to recognize one’s right not to be discriminated against based on one’s sexual orientation. It is time to recognize that homosexuality is part and parcel of the fabric of our society and that persons — human beings — in homosexual relationships are worthy of being afforded the same rights as other citizens.”
Both the High Court and the Supreme Court pronounced that the values, freedoms and democracy that Namibia was founded on have no place for discrimination and the violation of human rights. Everyone, including LGBTQI+ people, has the right to dignity, equality and protection under the law. This call for recognition by the courts is a significant victory for Namibia’s LGBTIQ+ community and advocacy.
The Supreme Court went on to say that the “court has made it clear that this recognition of the equal worth of all human beings is at the very root of the Constitution and that this is ‘further echoed and implemented in various articles of Chapter 3, and others of the Constitution.’ The value attached to dignity is at the very heart of our constitutional framework and fundamental to it as a value of central significance. Although it is entrenched as a self-standing right in Art 8, it relates to the protection of other rights and in particular, the right to equality.”
Colonial remnants and state-sponsored LGBTIQ+-phobia
To understand the continuous exclusion of LGBTIQ+ groups in progressive civic developments, it is essential to understand the impact and role that colonial laws have played in shaping the perception, attitudes and legal status of LGBTIQ+ people in society.
Colonial laws were discriminatory and repressive, resulting in the “othering” and, ultimately, the existence of vulnerable and marginalized groups. These laws were based on conservative religious and cultural values prevalent in Europe at the time and criminalized groups based on their gender, race, ethnicity and even sexual orientation and gender identity. Such laws continue to be in practice worldwide, including in Africa.
Like many other African nations, Namibia has an unfavorable history regarding recognizing and protecting LGBTIQ+ people. Identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is not illegal in Namibia. However, the country does criminalize consensual same sex-sexual activities between people of the same gender in terms of its Roman-Dutch common law.
These provisions are part of what was inherited from colonial laws during colonization and into the new constitution. Such laws continue to sideline LGBTIQ+ people, as they face daily stigma, discrimination and violence, including inaccessibility to healthcare, education, employment, and housing.
In December 2020, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights found that vagrancy laws or bylaws in nearly every country in Africa discriminate against marginalized and vulnerable populations, including women, children, people with disabilities, LGBTIQ+ people and others. Namibia is no exception in adopting such laws as the Roman-Dutch common laws criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. This imprint on the State still upholding oppressive colonial laws regarding LGBTIQ+ rights is part of why LGBTIQ+ people and families face daily exclusion. Consensual same-sex relations are still criminalized in Namibia. The repressive and colonial legislation still engraved in Namibia’s laws provides many challenges for same-sex couples and LGBTIQ+ families, like Digashu and Potgieter, and many other same-sex couples seeking legal recognition status in Namibia.
Regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, everyone should have social, economic and legal stability and equal opportunities. Still, discrimination against LGBTIQ+ people is a significant barrier to full social and legislative inclusion.
Same-sex relationships are currently criminalized in 32 African countries, with the death penalty in three African states if convicted and found guilty.
Namibia, formerly known as South West Africa, was a former colony of Germany and later came under the authority of South Africa. Namibia gained independence on March 21, 1990 and celebrated its 33rd independence anniversary on March 21 this year. The constitution of Namibia came into being when the country gained independence. Namibia’s Vision 2030 concerns itself with the population concerning their social, economic and overall well-being and that all people enjoy high standards of living, good quality of life and economic and overall well-being and that all people enjoy high standards of living, good quality of life, and have access to quality social services. All of these aspirations translate into equity, equality and respect for human rights for all people, regardless of one’s social standing. By 2030, Namibia aspires to be a just, moral, tolerant and safe nation with legislative, economic and social structures in place to eliminate marginalization and ensure peace and equity between of all people of different ages, interests and abilities.
The evolution of society
Society is evolving and becoming increasingly aware of its rights and existence. In advocating and asserting their rights, communities realize that such common laws are outdated and contribute to the discrimination faced by vulnerable groups. Colonization fostered environments in which such rules were applied in policy and practice to deter, conceal and repress freedoms of expression, identity and association of groups that did not fit the colonial setting. Such groups were made to feel inferior and less valuable to society, leading to segregation practices such as apartheid, tribalism, classism and discrimination and exclusion of sexual and gender minorities.
In a modern-day democratic, independent state like Namibia, colonial remnants are still widely evident in specific laws and policies, so people like Daniel and Johan, and others, must seek justice from the courts to validate their relationship and belonging. There needs to be a correlation between the legislation and the vision that the country is working towards.
The Bill of Rights is in place to protect and promote the fundamental human rights of Namibians and promote equality before the law and the need for fair, just and speedy court processes. The constitution promotes the rights to liberty, respect for human dignity, equality and freedom from discrimination regardless of a person’s sex, race, or social or economic status association, and even the right to marriage and having a family between same-sex spouses. The blatant denial of the recognition of same-sex marriages by the State violates the right to dignity. It amounts to multiple layers of discrimination by the State, which contrasts with the constitution of Namibia.
Despite these challenges, there have been continuous efforts by LGBTIQ+ advocates and allies to push for greater recognition and acceptance of LGBTIQ+ individuals in Namibia. These efforts include taking an intersectional advocacy approach that is results-based. There is still a long way to go to achieve full equality and protection for LGBTIQ+ individuals in Namibia. In the long exhale process, Digashu has found public support and joined LGBTIQ+ human rights defenders to continue raising awareness and educating the public on human rights and the challenges faced by LGBTIQ+ people. The Digashu matter highlights the need for LGBTIQ+ inclusion and acknowledgement. In its judgment, the Supreme Court noted the need for social and legislative inclusion of LGBTIQ+ persons in Namibia.
Bradley Fortuin is the LGBTIQ+ Program Officer at the Southern Africa Litigation Center and is social justice activist with over 10 years of experience in program design and strategic management, focusing on developing, implementing and strengthening LGBTIQ+-led movements.
As the public health emergency ends, a humanitarian crisis begins for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers
Title 42 ended on May 11
LGBTQIA+ people from around the world who come to the U.S. Southern border seeking safety from escalating discrimination and violence are now met with an impossible new system that denies us our human rights. Under Title 42, we struggled to find pathways from persecution in our home countries. When it was lifted on May 11, Biden replaced it with an asylum ban that forces us to stay in unsafe conditions while we try, and fail, to make an appointment on an app that does not work.
A gay asylum seeker myself, I experienced first-hand the challenges of proving my worthiness of protection under Title 42. Homosexuality is criminalized in a third of the world’s countries, forcing LGBTQIA+ people to face violence, harassment and discrimination, sometimes from our own government authorities. The Title 42 policy launched at the beginning of the COVID emergency prevented us from making an asylum case properly, leaving us in a state of vulnerability and without the protection we desperately needed. We faced increasing risks as we navigated detention or processing centers and were forced to return to countries where our lives were in danger.
I am now the client services manager at Lawyers for Good Government’s Project Corazon, where we coordinate legal services for thousands of LGBTQIA+ people fleeing danger, like I once did. Every day, I see how Biden’s new asylum ban makes pleading such claims nearly impossible. One of our clients, Mario, poses the perfect example.
Mario, a gender non-conforming Guatemalan asylum seeker from the Maya Qʼeqchiʼ community, carries on their late father’s legacy as a traditional herbal medicine expert and human rights advocate. In March 2022, they organized peaceful protests against the country’s homophobic “protection of life and family” bill, which was later passed by the Guatemalan Congress. However, their involvement led to persecution and torture by government-affiliated leaders, who accused them of witchcraft. Expelled from their community under indigenous “laws,” Mario sought refuge within Guatemala but faced ongoing persecution. Surviving two firearm assassination attempts, they fled to the United States’ Southern border to seek asylum.
Arriving at the Matamoros-Brownsville International Bridge, Mario exercised their rights under international law to express their intent to seek asylum directly to a Customs and Border Control asylum officer, the proper process before the U.S. government introduced the notoriously glitchy CBP One app earlier this year. Introduced to create an “orderly” means of arguing an exemption to Title 42, the app instead created yet another barrier to accessing asylum. Instead of accepting their declaration, the officer instructed them to use the app to make an appointment wherein they would check a box claiming they were exempt from the Title 42 public health emergency, and receive an appointment to tell their story and hopefully receive parole so they could begin the asylum process.
Mario managed to get access to a smartphone, but their limited literacy and unfamiliarity with technology posed challenges. The app failed to recognize their darker complexion during the photo capture process, as it did with numerous asylum seekers. Still, Mario did not give up: They struggled to secure an appointment every day, fearing their inability to verify their identity or meet the app’s listed vulnerabilities would hinder their right to request asylum. After 90 days of unsuccessful attempts and increasing dangers in Matamoros, they finally could not wait any longer and chose to instead risk crossing the hazardous river near the International Bridge to enter the U.S. They were intercepted by CBP and processed. Following a 72-hour case review, Mario received one-year parole, enabling them to pursue their asylum case in a safer environment.
If this new asylum ban had been in place, Mario would not be here today. They would have to prove that they had first sought asylum in Mexico, or figure out how to use an app that is not available in their language, or simply be forced to remain in a place where they had received numerous threats on their life. And had they attempted to cross, they would be deported “home” to a country that is notoriously hostile to LGBTQIA+ people, especially those with darker skin, and prohibited from seeking asylum in the U.S. again for five years.
This is now how asylum law works. Under existing asylum procedures that have been the law of the land since 1980, when Title 42 lifted on May 11, Mario should have just been able to walk up to an asylum officer and plead credible fear of harm based on their membership in a persecuted group. However, instead, the Biden administration pushed through critical, harsh changes to how asylum seekers on our southern border can seek protection, directly endangering our community and our lives.
It is not too late for the Biden administration to ensure that the new asylum rule does not exclude or discriminate against LGBTQIA+ people seeking protection in the United States. First, the administration should train immigration officials on the specific challenges facing our community, including understanding the laws and situations facing LGBTQIA+ people in different countries; this will guarantee a fair and appropriate evaluation in each individual case, and will avoid the perpetuation of stereotypes and prejudices that can lead to wrong decisions. Second, the administration must put mechanisms in place to provide legal advice and emotional support to people in our community seeking asylum, as we often face additional barriers due to our sexual orientation or gender identity. Third, the administration must fulfill its promise to create alternative pathways for people at imminent risk of harm, including our community members fleeing oppression.
The LGBTQIA+ community deserves an asylum system in the U.S. that recognizes and protects our fundamental human rights. Only then can we build an asylum system that reflects our values of equality and justice for all.
Estuardo Cifuentes is the client services manager at Lawyers for Good Government’s Project Corazon.
The road to decriminalization in Sri Lanka
Country’s Supreme Court this month ruled in favor of MP’s bill
Thanks to its colonial legacy, Sri Lanka is one of 67 countries in the world that still criminalizes same-sex sexual relations among consenting adults. Sections 365 and 365A of Sri Lanka’s Penal Code state that “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” (in other words, any type of sex that is considered unnatural) and “acts of gross indecency” are criminal offenses punishable by law, carrying a sentence of up to 10 years. While they do not specify that these offenses pertain to same-sex sexual relations anymore, they are most often used against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, Transgender, intersex and queer/questioning (LGBTIQ) community. In addition, the Vagrancy Law and Section 399 of the Penal Code regarding “cheating by personation” (referring to impersonation) are also used against the LGBTIQ community in Sri Lanka, particularly against transgender individuals.
For eons, criminalization has led to arbitrary arrests, inhumane forceful anal examinations, degrading treatment etc. It has sanctioned discrimination, stigmatization, denial of basic human rights, harassment and violence towards LGBTIQ community by state officials in the criminal justice system and unfortunately by the wider public as well. This has led to social and economic marginalization and to the exclusion of LGBTIQ individuals and groups from vital services. EQUAL GROUND, the oldest and one of the truly diverse organizations in Sri Lanka, has been fighting relentlessly for over 19 years to decriminalize consenting same-sex relationships. This has been a roller coaster ride where EQUAL GROUND encountered political and social backlash, tackled online and offline threats, hate comments etc., but it has never given up. As they say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour.” Rather, the attacks and barriers motivated EQUAL GROUND to stand firmly and continue fighting the good fight. Due to its relentless hard work and support from allies, the international community and like-minded organizations, finally we are seeing decriminalization firmly on the table — something which seemed so far-fetched only a couple of years back.
As mentioned earlier, the criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct in Sri Lanka has its origins in 19th century British colonial law. Introduced in 1883, section 365A originally criminalized “any act of gross indecency” between males. In 1995, when reforming the Penal Code — due to a private members bill in 1995 — the government ignored recommendations to repeal the provision and instead amended Section 365A from “male person” to “person,” bringing lesbian and bisexual women within its remit. Consequently, lesbian, bisexual, Transgender and queer (LBTQ) women in Sri Lanka are extremely vulnerable to harassment, violence and discrimination by State actors and by society at large. At the same time, it perpetuates and reinforces the widespread societal stigma against LBTQ women, giving license to harassment and discrimination in employment, housing, education, health care and family relations, to name a few. Realizing and experiencing such discriminatory treatment, in 2018 Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, executive director of EQUAL GROUND (with the support of Human Dignity Trust) challenged the criminalization of lesbians and bisexual women in Sri Lanka by submitting a communication to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) under the Optional Protocol in August 2018. This move was the first steppingstone towards initiating the process and talk of decriminalization. This ground-breaking case was the first time CEDAW considered an individual complaint relating specifically to the criminalization of lesbian and bisexual women. Flamer-Caldera sought a wide range of remedies, beginning with the repeal of criminalization of same-sex consensual relationships between adult women which is contrary to the Convention. She also sought amongst other things, the wider decriminalization of consensual same-sex activity in private between adults and effective protection from gender-based violence against women based on the intersection of their sex and sexual orientation.
After years of struggle, finally in February 2022, the CEDAW committee ruled the judgment in Flamer-Caldera’s favor. The committee decided that Rosanna Flamer-Caldera’s rights had been violated by the criminalization of same-sex sexual intimacy in Sri Lanka. Moreover, the CEDAW committee urged the government to decriminalize same-sex sexual relations.
In August 2022 Parliamentarian and lawyer Premanath C. Dolawatte presented to Parliament a Private Member’s Bill to amend Sections 365 and 365A of the Penal Code of Sri Lanka with the aim of ensuring the rights of the LGBTIQ community. The bill was subsequently handed over to President Ranil Wickremesinghe where he stated that the government will not oppose the amendment. Dolawatte, at a public forum inclusive of major political parties including the Samagi Jana Balawegaya and Ceylon Workers’ Congress, also stated that he was hopeful that a majority of MPs in the House would support his bill and join the effort to protect the rights of the LGBTIQ community. A revised version of this gill was gazetted and presented to Parliament in March and April 2023 respectively.
In September 2022, EQUAL GROUND was invited by MP Buddhika Pathirana (SJB) to put together a discussion on LGBTIQ inclusion, following which a proposal was made and accepted to (a) the Samagi Jana Balawegaya’s (SJB) National Reforms Committee to incorporate LGBTIQ rights in their party manifesto, (b) sensitize SJB parliamentarians and politicians on sexual orientation and/or gender identities/expressions (SOGIE) issues. This discussion was attended by LGBTIQ activists, lawyers, healthcare professionals, business personnel as well as politicians from the SJB party including the party leader Mr. Sajith Premadasa, who is also the current leader of the opposition.
In December 2022, EQUAL GROUND submitted the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) report (4th cycle), in collaboration with the Center for International Human Rights of Northwestern Pritzker School of Law in Chicago. In this joint submission, as remedial measures EQUAL GROUND sought to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct by repealing Penal Code Section 365 and 365A and ensuring that Penal Code Section 399 and the Vagrants Ordinance are not misused to target LGBTIQ persons. In February 2023, at the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group session (42nd session), the U.S., the U.K., Canada, New Zealand and Norway, among others, urged Sri Lanka to decriminalize same-sex relationships. Responding to all the recommendations, Minister of Foreign Affairs, President’s Counsel (PC) M.U.M. Ali Sabry assured that the government would work towards decriminalization, however same-sex marriage would not be legalized. Referring to the Private Member’s Bill, he stated that the government will support its position of decriminalizing same-sex relationships.
A petition was presented to the Supreme Court in April this year challenging the constitutionality of the bill to amend the Penal Code. After hearing more than a dozen petitions on both sides of the argument, the Supreme Court has determined that a private member’s bill seeking the decriminalization of homosexuality is not inconsistent with the Constitution. The decision is seen as a historic development that has created hope towards real change. Activists will still have to lobby for support from the 225 parliamentarians to push forward the proposed legislation through Parliament; but it has opened the door of an inclusive and equal future where everybody will be able to enjoy their basic rights regardless of their sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity etc.
Both the president of Sri Lanka and the joint opposition has stated they will not oppose the bill. The next steps for it to eventually become legislation, is a vote with a simple majority at Parliament to see this through.
This Supreme Court decision in early May 2023 is major for the community in terms of any kind of progress they have seen over the last few decades.
On several occasions, the international community has urged the government to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct. For instance, in 2021 the European Union Parliament adopted a resolution with regard to the withdrawal of Sri Lanka’s GSP+ status given their concern over Sections 365 and 365A of the Penal Code that criminalize individuals with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. Unfortunately, the EU dropped this condition from at the last moment granting GSP+ status to Sri Lanka. It was a severe blow to the LGBTIQ community and EQUAL GROUND who had lobbied at high levels within the EU and had been assured by the EU that indeed decriminalization would be an important condition of Sri Lanka’s GSP+ status.
LGBTIQ rights, from 2021 to until now, has seen some positive changes developing with national laws and policies.
According to EQUAL GROUND’s mapping study in 2021, approximately 12 percent of the Sri Lankan population identify themselves as LGBTIQ. Continuing to preserve Victorian, homophobic laws that penalizes individuals for who they are and/or for choosing a same-sex partner, violates their human rights as citizens of this country and drives the community underground to live in constant fear and in the shadows. Therefore, in order for Sri Lanka to be consistent with international standards of human dignity and rights, these laws can no longer be viewed with the moral standards that existed during the time of their creation. Rather, they have to be viewed in line with modern-day community standards based on the principles of human dignity and respect.
Rosanna Flamer-Caldera is the executive director of EQUAL GROUND.
The “Find Out” generation: A new generation for a new America
The “find out” generation that won’t settle for business as usual and are willing to face down the forces of status quo
By Steve Dunwoody | LOS ANGELES – In an op-ed I wrote in April entitled “On Gun Violence, the New Generation Will Not Be Silenced,” I wrote about Tennessee State Representative Justin Thomas and Justin Pearson being expelled from the Tennessee legislature.
Since then, both have been reinstated by local county governing boards that sent them back to the legislature unanimously. Let’s recall they and the remaining legislator Gloria Johnson’s “crime,” was deciding enough was enough by protesting against gun violence on the legislative floor. The national support they have received since then has been enormous.
Similarly, in Montana, Zooey Zephyr, the first transgender legislator there, was silenced by the Republican majority legislature there, being censured (prevented from public speaking) for saying there would be “blood on the hands” of members that voted on an anti-trans piece of legislation.
Zephyr and the “Tennessee Three,” as they’ve come to be called, are part of a new generation of leaders in America, or the “find out” generation that won’t settle for business as usual and are willing to face down the forces of status quo that want to maintain a system built on White supremacy and assimilation.
They follow a lineage of resistance of those willing to cause “good trouble,” as the late Congressman John Lewis once said. As the former head of the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee in the 60s, Lewis was arrested multiple times and was part of the Tennessee sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in Nashville. (He would later, in 2016, bring Congressional House proceedings to a halt in a protest against gun violence.)
Justin Jones himself has been arrested 13 times for non-violent protest and jokes that one of the reasons he ran for the state legislature is that “members of the Tennessee Legislature can’t be arrested,” which is true, at least while in session. But Justin’s arrests are part of the tradition of the civil rights movement in the South. Tennessee was indeed the home resistance.
In May of 1960, over 150 students were arrested by the police for attempting to desegregate lunch counters in downtown Nashville. During the trial, the students, including Diane Nash, were defended by a group of 13 lawyers, headed by Z. Alexander Looby, a Black lawyer from the British West Indies, whose house was later bombed by segregationists. Looby and his wife were thankfully unharmed.
Later that day, 3,000 protesters marched to Nashville City Hall to confront Mayor Ben West to demand something be done about the violence. He agreed the lunch counters should be desegregated but that it should be up to the store managers.
The city later reached an agreement to desegregate numerous stores before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited desegregation altogether. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. later came to Nashville, saying he “did not come to bring inspiration, but to find it.”
Meanwhile, in Montana, Zooey Zephyr, the first transgendered state legislator in Montana, follows in the footsteps of early LGBT activists/officeholders like the late Harvey Milk of San Francisco. Zephyr’s courageous stance against a majority of the legislature who voted for an anti-trans bill prohibiting gender-affirming healthcare for minors resulted in Zephyr being censured and prohibited from giving speeches on the House floor. Since then, there has been a tremendous national backlash against such fascist tactics both there and in Tennessee.
As we look ahead to Junteenth and Pride next month, Jones, Pearson, and Zephyr are visible symbols of the rise of a new generation coming up, the “find out” generation that refuses to accept the status quo and who is willing to put everything on the line to face injustice in the name of service to their communities.
Whether it is gun violence, housing, or hate, leadership like this will create the multigenerational, intersectional leadership we need at the local, state, and federal levels in the Halls of Congress to bring about solutions to the issues we have been facing. To create a new America that works for everyone. And I’m here for it.
A millennial, based in Los Angeles, Steve Dunwoody is a veteran, college educator, and community advocate.
“Freedom” is little more than a hollow DeSantis campaign slogan
Transgender Floridians will pay the steepest price for the Governor’s craven pandering to the most extreme faction of his base
By Brandon J. Wolf | ORLANDO – Matt Walsh super fans toting firearms they learned how to use on YouTube and conducting vigilante genital inspections in public restrooms.
If that visual doesn’t invoke freedom for you, that’s because it’s not. But it is the Sunshine State’s pending reality under the DeSantis regime, where “freedom” is little more than a hollow campaign slogan and the power of government is routinely weaponized against anyone who might serve as a punching bag for a Governor drunk on presidential ambition.
This year, in his desperation to outflank Donald Trump to the far right and bolster his 2024 resume, Governor DeSantis led an unprecedented legislative assault on freedom, in the most virulently anti-LGBTQ session in Florida’s history. Bills ranged from those that accelerate book bans and revoke a parent’s right to ensure their child’s pronouns are respected in school to others that target drag shows and threaten custody agreements over health care for transgender young people.
Among the policy onslaught is HB 1521, the Anti-Trans Bathroom Bill. On paper, it’s a redux of the ill-fated legislation that decimated the North Carolina economy less than a decade ago and spelled doom for the political career of then-Governor Pat McRory.
In practice, it’s a sinister invasion of privacy that bars transgender people from using the restroom in publicly-owned buildings that aligns with how they live their lives everyday and deputizes people to challenge one another’s presence in those spaces. The bill opens the door to the same abuse, mistreatment, and dehumanization that other efforts to police restroom use have precipitated.
Just last year, Noah Ruiz, a transgender man in Ohio, was brutally assaulted by a crowd of people and subsequently jailed after using the women’s restroom as instructed by staff at a campground.
Therein lies the danger of policies like these. Filed and fast tracked under the false premise of “protecting” the public, transphobic bathroom bans are fueled by dangerous disinformation about the transgender community. And their enforcement endorses grotesque invasions of privacy and dangerous accusations.
Are we prepared for escalating confrontations at convention center stalls? How will someone “prove” that they’ve selected the appropriate restroom? Will we all be expected to carry a copy of our birth certificate or will the state rely on vigilantes monitoring the external anatomy of those one toilet over?
A question arose as we began spelling out the realities of a draconian bathroom ban: who might get swept up? What about cisgender people who don’t fit someone else’s idea of how a man or woman should look? Could elected officials and appointees suddenly find themselves in handcuffs for making a necessary pitstop near their airport arrival gate?
The answer is yes. It’s conceivable that Admiral Rachel Levine, the nation’s Assistant Secretary for Health, could end up in police custody for using the restroom at Orlando International Airport or the University of Florida campus — the very same restroom she uses back home in Washington D.C..
Transgender Floridians will pay the steepest price for the Governor’s craven pandering to the most extreme faction of his base. Policies like this are little more than campaign fodder for someone like DeSantis. He craves a Fox News headline and content for his next fundraising email.
For him, transgender people are merely a rung on the ladder he must climb to reach his political destination, a stepping stone on his way to the GOP convention stage. But transgender people are not pawns or political fodder. They are our neighbors. Our family members. Our friends. They are human beings who deserve the dignity of taking care of basic needs without the prying eyes of government or someone hopped up on the latest Ben Shapiro video peering over the walls of their stall.
Ron DeSantis likes to claim that we are the “freest state in the nation.” But tell me: does a government regime telling you what you can read, what health care you can receive, who you can be, and where you can use the bathroom sound like freedom to you?
Brandon J. Wolf is the press secretary for Equality Florida, the largest state-wide LGBTQ+ rights and advocacy organization.
Another day, another mass-shooting, the reality? No stopping it
“The gun lobby’s interpretation of the Second Amendment is one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word FRAUD, on the American people by special interest groups I have ever seen in my lifetime.” ~ The conservative Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Warren E. Burger, in 1991.
LOS ANGELES – The gunman who murdered eight at a shopping mall in Allen, Texas, was identified as a 33-year-old former security guard Mauricio Garcia whose social media accounts document he was an adherent to neo-Nazi ideology. After being shot by responding police officers, he was found in full tactical gear, armed with an AR-15 style assault rifle, and a patch popular among the Proud Boys and Neo-Nazis that read RWDS (“Right Wing Death Squad”) on his vest.
Reaction was immediate and predictable, particularly on the Twitter platform, where hundreds of photos and videos were posted of the carnage left behind. There were also the tired mantra of 2A gun advocates and the elected politicians supported by them repeating the “thoughts & prayers” coupled with “we need more guns” and then more mental health treatment resources statements.
Addressing the images which included graphic photos of sheet covered bodies outside the H&M store with pools of blood visible, the New York Times noted:
Twitter Criticized for Allowing Texas Shooting Images to Spread– Graphic images of the attack went viral on the platform, which has made cuts to its moderation team. Some users said the images exposed the realities of gun violence.
Considerable critique was leveled at Twitter’s owner Elon Musk; “the unusually graphic nature of the images drew sustained outcry from users. And they threw a harsh spotlight on Twitter’s content moderation practices, which have been curtailed since Mr. Musk acquired the company last year.”
But in a larger sense, almost a quorum if you will in the sphere of public debate, sentiments such as “We need more gory photos. It is the lack of reality which only gory photos can show that has enabled the Republican pro-gun stance which has led directly to all these mass shootings. The media has been complicit in covering up the carnage. Enough already.” were more commonplace in the ongoing Twitter threads related to the shooting.
The question becomes does the shock value of open publishing gory photos that detail the outcome of what assault weapons do to human bodies outweigh decorum? Afterall, death has been well documented for years by media coverage of war zones, natural disasters, and in some cases even political-based violence and death by gunfire such as John Filo’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over the dead body of Jeffrey Miller minutes after the unarmed student was fatally shot by an Ohio National Guardsman.
That photo was literally on the front page of nearly every print media outlet and used in broadcast coverage after Kent State, and later, many credited that image to changing the narrative of the war in Vietnam and the protest movement against the war.
But the debate over the Second Amendment and the apparent lack of political will to resolve the issue over gun reform, let along a ban on military style assault weapons, is married to the issues over documenting the massacres.
One person noted: “During Vietnam, the nightly body count caught the country’s attention that, combined with pictures of the carnage, helped make a difference to demand an end to the conflict. Today, the body counts get a mere shrug at most.
As AR-15 style weapons do terrible damage and are meant for killing, the pictures (results of the damage) must be shown and shown with each shooting to make it clear just how horrific this shit is. Otherwise the public slumber will continue.”
Frustration and anger mount.
A well regulated militia killed 9 people in Allen Texas today.— FloridaBlue (@AlanMayUSA) May 7, 2023
City personnel congratulate themselves on their quick response.
Information on tomorrow's mass shooting is expected late tomorrow afternoon. pic.twitter.com/PmQrG7h59K
Journalist Mark Follman pointed out that Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott once again claims there is no gun-policy solution to mass shooters using AR-15s and instead emphasizes that mental illness is the “root cause” of these massacres — despite extensive case evidence showing that is false.
Abbott’s statements triggered this response from Democratic California Governor Gavin Newsom:
Here is a clip in which @GregAbbott_TX:— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) May 7, 2023
1) Conveniently leaves out the fact that Texas’ gun death rate is 73% higher than CA’s.
2) Accidentally points to exactly why we need federal gun safety laws. pic.twitter.com/pKOCW4UY7d
This is your reminder that @GregAbbott_TX cut $211 million in mental health funding.— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) May 7, 2023
Newsom then took aim at Congress tweeting: “This is freedom?? To be shot at a mall? Shot at school? Shot at church? Shot at the movies? We have become a nation that is more focused on the right to kill than the right to live. This is not what the American people want. Do your damn job, Congress.”
Earlier today Abbott told Fox News he will not be passing any common sense gun laws after the Allen mass shooting. The Texas governor has previously bragged that he now allows guns to be carried openly in public with “no training or license needed.”
Gun control advocates argued:
NEW: The gunman in Allen, Texas, kept a profile on a Russian social media site where he posted rants against Jews, women and racial minorities and shared selfies of his Nazi tattoos.— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) May 8, 2023
White supremacy is an ideology, not a mental illness. https://t.co/uMl5M90j1K
There just seems to be no resolution and no movement politically or as a society. The following picture is a screen shot of various news broadcasts showing three members, Republican, of the U.S. House proudly displaying the chosen weapon for a majority of mass shooters in the U.S.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Monday told reporters during the briefing regarding the shooting in Allen, Texas: “We have spoken out consistently about the concerning rise in hate-fueled violence in this country.”
President Biden issued a statement taking aim at Republicans in Congress:
Too many families have empty chairs at their dinner tables. Republican Members of Congress cannot continue to meet this epidemic with a shrug. Tweeted thoughts and prayers are not enough.
Once again I ask Congress to send me a bill banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Enacting universal background checks. Requiring safe storage. Ending immunity for gun manufacturers. I will sign it immediately. We need nothing less to keep our streets safe.”
Gun backers with loud adamancy claim that for the Democrats it is always political power … “They know banning assault rifles wont save lives as 78% of mass shootings are done with handguns. That’s fact. The AR-15 is the number one selling rifle and earns the most $$$ so that’s why they are targeted.” Then the second most popular tactic seems to be deflection: “Laws on restricting guns isn’t the solution. The underlying societal problems need to be addressed. People in Italy have AR-15 but rarely mass shootings. So it’s not the guns but the culture and other societal issues.”
Yet just a week prior to this mass-shooting, a San Jacinto County, Texas, resident firing an AR-15 in his front yard killed five people in a neighboring home after they asked him to stop shooting because a baby was sleeping. Police said all were shot execution-style; the youngest victim was 8-years-old.
Besides the mass murders at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and Club Q in Colorado Springs here is a partial list of when an AR-15-style weapon was used in a mass shooting:
- Feb. 14, 2018: Shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida leaves 17 people dead.
- Oct. 1, 2017: The Las Vegas slaughter of 58 people.
- Nov. 5, 2017: The Sutherland Springs, Texas, church shooting that claimed 26 lives.
- June 12, 2016: The Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla., that left 49 dead.
- Dec. 2, 2015: The San Bernardino, Calif., shooting that killed 14 people.
- Dec. 14, 2012: The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that took 27 lives.
Given the reluctance to make any significant changes in the gun laws, it appears that Republicans, with their unwillingness to protect people from mass shooters, are only going to continue to Make America Grieve Again!
A man who rushed to the aid of victims after a shooting that killed at least 8 at a mall in Allen, Texas, said Saturday he found a child who survived and was shielded by his mother's body.— CBS News (@CBSNews) May 8, 2023
"No one can see what we saw today and not be affected by it." https://t.co/dykcObx744 pic.twitter.com/IfQnMYQ1Vx
The day Penny Mordaunt became gay culture
Former Tory prime minister candidate stole show at King Charles III’s coronation
“Can we all agree that Penny Mordaunt is gay culture today?” The declaration was made in a crowded Soho bar, made slightly less gay by the revelers from the coronation that had taken place an hour earlier. By Sunday the former Tory candidate for the premiership had become the Pippa Middleton of the day, completely ignoring that our new king had been crowned.
The epitome of Britishness.
When I told my friends in the States that I would be crossing the pond and finally heading back to Blighty they were rather excited. But when I said it was for the coronation some faces changed, “Why would you celebrate that man after what he did to Meghan?”
“Wait, are you actually going to the service?” Their eyes studied me, did they have a secret Lord in their midst?
The truth of the matter was that I just wanted to be home in South London for this event. Sure, I’d be swapping one sofa for another, and instead of the dog napping it would be my father, but CNN aren’t a patch on the Beeb during big events. Plus, I’d have my mum’s running commentary on the most obscure of guests, giving Cherie Blair short shrift.
The British just have this special way of doing things, a result of both loving some pomp and circumstance but also being slightly embarrassed about making a fuss. I think that’s why we invented bunting.
I had barely been in the country for a couple of hours when I found myself sitting with mum, supervising dad as he filled the back garden with Union Jacks. My husband had succumbed to the jet lag that I was staving off with copious cups of tea.
“Dearest,” my father called out to my mum, “would it be bad to use the flags from the jubilee?”
“Just put them up the top, no one will see,” replied mother before returning to putting the world to rights.
“And what about the ones from the last Olympics?”
“Just shove them in with the pansies.” You honestly can’t get more British than that.
My own experience of the coronation, or cor-re-nashe as the locals “huns” have christened it, will be very biased towards the royals. My parents’ home is in the southernmost point of London, a deliciously rural village that celebrates every big event with street fairs and a special hat for the red post box knitted by the Cupcakes, a local women’s group.
On Friday we dared to leave the village and head into the local town. The entire bus journey we could see the school children wearing paper crowns, but the coronation barely got mentioned by our friends that evening. Any grumbles were soothed with the reminder of an extra day off but its intended use as a day of service will no doubt be sidelined in favor of a day of recovery.
The British really don’t need an excuse to drink, though it probably hasn’t helped that many have predicted we’ll be doing this again very shortly.
King Charles’ reign was never meant to be as illustrious as his mother’s, but he’s in danger of beating her record of 16 prime ministers. He’s kept things as unoffensive as possible, though Harry may disagree with that. The most controversial decision so far has been choosing quiche as the celebratory dish, a far cry from the British staple that is coronation chicken.
“I’m just not sure about the broad bean element,” muttered mother as she opened up the Quiche Lorraine.
And there we have it, because even though this is all about welcoming in a new era the coronation is also about reminding ourselves of the traditions that make us British.
Don’t try anything new.
As Saturday’s coverage made way for a news report on the event we just watched, my mum recomposed herself, having gotten a little emotional as Charles had his quiet chat with God. The screen filled with the Republican protests in Trafalgar Square.
“Oh, for God’s sake,” said mother with disdain, “if they want a republic so much then why don’t they just bugger off to France?”
And I think that just about sums it all up.
Maximilian Sycamore is a D.C.-based media producer who is originally from London. The opinions expressed in this op-ed are entirely his own.
A free press matters now more than ever
Wednesday was World Press Freedom Day
WASHINGTON — The Library Walk on East 41st Street near Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal has bronze plaques with quotes from prominent literary and historical figures. One contains an excerpt of a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to Col. Charles Yancey on Jan. 6, 1816.
“Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe,” wrote Jefferson.
This quote that I saw on East 41st Street in March while on assignment in New York seemed all the more appropriate — and timely — on Wednesday as the world marked World Press Freedom Day.
Washington Post Publisher Fred Ryan, at a World Press Freedom Day event his newspaper held with Reporters Without Borders, noted 57 journalists were killed around the world in 2022. They include Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian American Al Jazeera reporter who Israeli soldiers killed on May 11, 2022
, while she covered an Israel Defense Force raid of the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank.
Ryan in his opening remarks also noted 533 journalists were detained in 2022. They include Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Post contributor and Russian opposition figure who received a 25-year prison sentence last month after a judge convicted him of treason for publicly criticizing the country’s war against Ukraine.
Iranian authorities in 2014 arrested Post Global Opinions Writer Jason Rezaian and his wife, Yeganeh Rezaian, who is now a senior researcher for the Committee to Protect Journalists, and charged them with espionage. Jason Rezaian spent 544 days in prison until his release on Jan. 16, 2016.
The Rezaians spoke about their experience in Iran during the World Press Freedom Day event. Post Senior Writer Frances Stead Sellers also interviewed Wall Street Journal Washington Bureau Chief Paul Beckett about Evan Gershkovich, an American Wall Street Journal reporter of Russian descent who Russia’s Federal Security Service detained on espionage charges in March. Three other journalists also discussed the persecution they faced in their respective countries and/or in the countries from which they reported.
• Adefemi Akinsanya is an anchor and international correspondent for Arise News, a London-based news channel that covers Africa. Nigerian police officers on Oct. 20, 2021, assaulted Akinsanya and her colleagues as they covered a memorial in Lagos, the country’s largest city, that commemorated the protesters who security forces killed during protests against police brutality that had taken place the year before.
• Hanna Liubakova is an independent journalist from Belarus who fled her country in 2020. She continues to cover President Alexander Lukashenko’s dictatorship and efforts to bring democracy to her homeland.
• Denny Fenster is the editor-at-large for Frontier Myanmar. The Associated Press notes a court in Myanmar in November 2021 convicted him of spreading false or inflammatory information, contacting illegal organizations and violating visa regulations and sentenced him to 11 years in prison with hard labor. The government of Myanmar released Fenster after he spent nearly six months in prison.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Clayton Weimers, the executive director of Reporters without Borders’ U.S. Bureau, also spoke at the event. Debra Tice, the mother of Austin Tice, a freelance journalist who has been held in Syria for more than a decade, was among those in attendance.
“We know that journalists around the world are increasingly under siege and under siege in a whole variety of ways,” Blinken told Post Associate Editor David Ignatius during the World Press Freedom Day event. “That’s now manifested itself once again very powerfully in Evan (Gershkovich)’s detention and incarceration in Moscow, profoundly unjustly for doing his job.”
Press freedom and journalists’ ability to do their jobs without persecution is also personal.
Blade contributor Yariel Valdés González in September 2019 won asylum in the U.S. because of the persecution he suffered in Cuba as a journalist. (Yariel spent nearly a year in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, and documented the abuses he and his fellow detainees suffered.) The Cuban government on May 8, 2019, detained me at Havana’s José Martí International Airport for nearly seven hours after I tried to enter the country in order to continue the Washington Blade’s coverage of LGBTQ and intersex Cubans.
Reporters who contribute to Reportar sin Miedo, the Blade’s media partner in Honduras, received threats last month after they covered a protest against San Pedro Sula Mayor Roberto Contreras over an anti-LGBTQ speech he made. Cuban police on July 11, 2021, violently arrested Maykel González Vivero, a journalist with whom the Blade has worked for nearly a decade, during an anti-government protest in Havana.
Blinken is correct when he says journalists “around the world are increasingly under siege and under siege in a whole variety of ways.” His assertion also applies to media professionals in the U.S.
The rhetoric — “fake news” and journalists are the “enemy of the people” — that the previous president and his followers continue to use in order to advance an agenda based on transphobia, homophobia, misogyny, islamophobia and white supremacy, has placed American journalists at increased risk. The current reality in which we media professionals are working should not be the case in a country that has enshrined a free press in its constitution.
A free press matters now more than ever.
LGBTQ+ community used as pawns in Turkey election
President has banned Pride parades, jeopardized public health efforts
Turkey’s general election on May 14 may be one of the most vigorously contested races in President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s 20-year rule, so it’s no surprise the conservative leader is continuing the decades-long crusade against LGBTQ people in an attempt to rally his base and claim another victory.
As the country grapples with years of economic mishandlings and the repercussions of an earthquake that killed 50,000 people in February, Erdoğan has intensified police crackdowns against LGBTQ safe spaces and events, jeopardized public health through HIV discriminatory policies and made it known through public records that LGBTQ people are second-class citizens. He even went as far as withdrawing Turkey from the Istanbul Convention — an international treaty designed to protect women from domestic abuse — claiming it promotes marriage equality despite no mention of it in the agreement.
This is a far cry from a nation that was once hailed as a shining example of a thriving democracy in the Muslim world. In fact, Turkey’s human rights record has worsened in the last decade, ranking 48 out of 49 countries in Rainbow Europe’s 2022 Map and Index, ranking countries based on their LGBTQ rights and policies. Still, there is hope.
Erdoğan’s main challenger, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, chair of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the unity candidate for six opposition parties, advocates a more inclusive, liberal platform that aims to champion freedom of expression and rebuild state institutions to stop Turkey’s slide toward autocracy.
Needless to say, the people of Turkey now have a choice to either continue down a radically conservative path or take swift action to course correct. Both Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu have proposed referendums for their respective visions of Turkey’s future. Erdoğan has submitted a draft bill of constitutional amendmentsrestricting marriage as only between men and women, despite the current article using the gender-neutral term “spouses.” Meanwhile, Kılıçdaroğlu and the opposition parties he represents seek to transition Turkey from the presidential system established under Erdoğan to one led by parliament. This change could potentially decentralize power and promote a more democratic and inclusive society, where the rights of all citizens, including the LGBTQ community, are respected and protected.
Addressing these issues is more important than ever considering the dangerous implications of Erdoğan’s anti-LGBTQ vitriol on the HIV epidemic in the region. While Turkey’s HIV prevalence remains low, data trends are moving upward in contrast to the rest of the world. According to the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), HIV cases increased 465 percent between 2009 and 2019, with exponential growth starting in 2014 — around the same time Erdoğan’s government banned Pride parades and restricted civil liberties following a series of widespread, anti-government protests lasting three weeks at Gezi Park in 2013.
A recent UNAIDS report paints a bleak picture for the region as well. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where Turkey plays a major geopolitical role, there were 160,000 new HIV cases in 2021 — a 48 percent increase since 2010. During that same time period, the number of AIDS-related deaths rose by 32 percent. The year before, in 2020, a reported 54 percent of new HIV diagnoses in the region were detected at a late stage (CD4+ <350 cells), a 10 percent increase in only two years. The Middle East and North Africa regions showed similar concerning trends as well.
Using LGBTQ issues as a political pawn has directly impacted HIV education and access in Turkey by perpetuating societal stigma and hindering progress in combating the virus. Furthermore, PrEP, a proven and effective HIV prevention method, remains uncovered by health insurance in the country, which limits access to essential preventive tools for those most at risk.
This is a critical moment for the future of Turkey. The outcome of the election will not only shape the nation’s domestic policies and stance on human rights but will also reverberate beyond its borders. As a key player in the Middle East, Turkey’s approach to LGBTQ rights will inevitably send a message to its neighbors during a time of political and social realignment across the region.
As Turkey stands at a critical crossroads, the very fabric of its society is at stake. Erdoğan’s fear-driven anti-LGBTQ campaign not only threatens the rights of marginalized groups but also endangers Turkey’s public health. The international community must not only condemn the human rights abuses against LGBTQ individuals in Turkey but rally behind the local organizations and activists courageously fighting for change. If history taught us anything, it’s that the consequences of Erdoğan’s political gambit are far-reaching. It’s time to change course.
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