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

LGBTQ+ news and events from Europe and the Middle East including Iran, Russia, Italy, Serbia, England, and Ireland

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IRAN

FRANKFURT, Germany – Shadi Amin, the executive director of Germany-based Iranian LGBTQ+ network 6rang (Iranian Lesbian and Transgender Network), grew up in Iran thinking she was “sick” because she’s queer.  In a recent interview with PinkNewsUK, Amin reflected on the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for allegedly not wearing a headscarf properly by Iran’s dreaded “morality police.”

Mahsa Amini shown in hospital in a coma after being severely beaten by Iranian ‘Morality Police’ for not wearing a headscarf. She later died as a result of her injuries. (Photo Credit: Family photo)

The death of the young Iranian-Kurdish woman on September 16, 2022 touched off massive protests across the Islamic Republic, especially in its capital city of Tehran. But Amin points out that those protests over Amini’s death led to become a rally call to fight for the rights of women, LGBTQ+ folks and other marginalized groups in Iran.

“[LGBTQ+ people] are one of the most active and involved groups in these demonstrations and protests last year … We saw everywhere when there was a demonstration [there was] the rainbow flag, even if sometimes the people didn’t agree with that and they said go back,” Amin told PinkNewsUK.

“They tried to put us out of the demonstration, but I think our LGBTI youth community is really powerful and they try to bring their demands in this movement,” she added.

Over 22,000 people were arrested and hundreds killed, including some who were executed by the Iranian government in an effort to crush dissent through violence. 

Read the entire interview here: [Link]

SERBIA

BELGRADE – Earlier this month several hundred LGBTQ+ people and the allies marched in the Serbian capital marking the celebration of a Pride march that was unmarred by violence in this religious conservative Balkan nation.

Belgrade Pride in 2019 (Photo Credit: Belgrade Pride)

Radio Free Europe noted that in a similar event last year, at least 21 people were arrested in connection with attacks against police, with most of them suspected of being far-right hooligans protesting against the LGBTQ+ pride march. 

In 2022, the government of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic reversed its late August decision to ban the international EuroPride parade event Thursday, Serbian state media reported.

On September 12, officials from EuroPride and Belgrade Pride, commemorated the start of EuroPride 2022 in the Serbian capital city of Belgrade with a ceremonial flag raising. On Friday led by the Dutch Embassy, members of the European Union and other non-EU states issued a joint statement applauding the Serbian government’s roll-back of the ban.

UNITED KINGDOM

Security footage of the attack on the Queer Superstore on September 10.

MANCHESTER – A 29-year-old man was arrested by Greater Manchester Police in connection with the vandalistic attacks on the Clonezone store on Sackville Street in the heart of Manchester Center. The store is the UK’s first & favorite Queer Superstore.

The suspect also being held on suspicion of 24 motor vehicle thefts and remains in custody for questioning.

Clonezone has been attacked five times this year, with the latest incident on Sunday 10 September 2023 at approximately 2pm. Two men approached the shop on a bike on Sunday and attempted to smash the windows before throwing an object at the doors.

Chief Inspector Steve Wiggins, of GMP’s City Centre Neighbourhood Team, said: “This is the second arrest in connection with this series of disturbing incidents but the investigation is still very much ongoing.

“The attacks are very specific with offenders arriving on bikes and causing significant damage.

“We are keen to find out the motivations behind the attacks and believe that will help us trace those responsible and bring them to justice.

“We have a dedicated team investigating these incidents, so if anybody knows anything about these attacks I would urge them to call police.”

Information can be passed on to police by calling 0161 856 3345 or via 101, or anonymously through Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

More than 60 people joined the protest organized by Reading Pride outside The Oracle shopping centre in downtown Reading, where Chick-fil-A opened its first UK temporary pop-up store on October 10, 2019. (Photo Credit: Reading Pride)

LONDON- American fast food chain Chick-Fil-A announced its plans to open five new franchise stores around Britain in as yet to be disclosed locations the BBC reported Friday, September 15.

Chick-fil-A had previously launched a pop-up store for a six-month lease in The Oracle shopping center in Reading in 2019, but was met with severe opposition and its lease wasn’t renewed. British LGBTQ+ rights activists protested the College Park, Georgia-based food chain’s donations to groups that have a record of being opposed to LGBTQ+ rights.

During the 2019 protests in Reading, the BBC noted that Reading Pride spokesperson Kirsten Bayes told protesters: “Companies like this have no place here in Reading and they have no place anywhere.

“We are standing in solidarity with campaigners across the United States… for justice and freedom for LGBT people.”

A local elected official, Reading Labour councilor Sarah Hacker said: “We can make sure that they don’t spread their hatred across the UK.”

The fast food chain firm is run by the Cathy family, who have publicly stated their opposition to same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ+ issues.  In 2020, the firm softened its stance and shifted its focus, hiring a diversity vice-president. The BBC reported that the company changed its approach to charitable giving, focusing on education and hunger alleviation, moving away from donations directed at anti-LGBTQ organizations, including several of those listed as extremist hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“From our earliest days, we’ve worked to positively influence the places we call home and this will be the same for our stores in the UK,” Joanna Symonds, Chick-Fil-A’s head of UK operations told the BBC.

“We encourage our operators to partner with organizations which support and positively impact their local communities, delivering great food and wider benefits to those around them,” she added.

In announcing the new UK investment, the chain highlighted its current charitable work, which include a $25,000 one-off donation to a local non-profit organization when a Chick-fil-A restaurant is opened, and donations of surplus food to local shelters, soup kitchens and food charities. Those policies would apply to its UK branches too, it said.

IRELAND

CORK CITY – The apparent rebranding of a beloved LGBTQ+ bar and safe space and make-over provoked protests by the local queer community.

Irish LGBTQ+ publication GCN reported that in recent weeks, people began to notice a change in the appearance of Chambers Bar, no longer recognizable as an LGBTQ+ space. A new sign had been displayed above the doorway with the name ‘Sinners’ in black and white, a stark contrast to the venue’s once vibrant appearance.

Patrons gather outside of Chambers Bar on Washington Street, Cork City, Ireland in June of 2021 after its relaunch, having been closed down for the Covid pandemic. (Photo Credit: Chambers Bar/Facebook)

This name is nothing new to people in Cork, as Chambers Bar has been hosting student nights under this name for a number of years. Even so, this year was the first time that, in addition to hosting a student night for ‘Freshers’ Week, all Pride flags, rainbow curtains and posters for upcoming drag shows were also taken down.

However, the catalyst for sparking an onslaught of backlash seems to have come from the cancellation of a weekly drag show. This was to be hosted by Cork drag queen Krystal Queer, who took to Instagram to express her disappointment in a video that now has over 300,000 views.

(Photo Credit: Trans & Intersex Pride Dublin/X-Twitter)

DUBLIN- In stark contrast to the small group of anti-Trans protesters gathered in Dublin to hear anti-LGBTQ+ TERF Kellie-Jay Keen aka Posie Parker speak at her ‘Let Women speak rally’ at Merrion Square, Trans & Intersex Pride Dublin had nearly a thousand supporters turn out to counter demonstrate.

The Irish Times reported that a large Gardai [police] presence was visible in and around the square and metal barriers were erected to create a space between the rival demonstrations.

The counter demo by Trans and Intersex Pride Dublin assembled outside the Dail [ Dáil Éireann is the lower house, and principal chamber, of the Oireachtas the Irish legislature ] on Kildare Street ahead of marching into Merrion Square.

Leading pro trans activist Jenny Maguire told the crowd: “We as queer people are forced into a world that’s not meant for us.

“We do everything we can to force a world that accepts us and that can love us all unapologetically, and it is them that wants to reverse any progress we’ve made so far and pull us back into the Dark Ages.”

ITALY

ROME – Italy’s right-wing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has demanded local councils only list biological parents on birth certificates, flinging hundreds of same-sex couples into a legal morass, France 24 News reported Thursday.

Journalist Lara Bullens reported that after same-sex civil unions were legalised in Italy in 2016, and in the absence of any clear legislation on parental rights for same-sex couples, a handful of city councils across the country started listing parents of the same gender on their children’s birth certificate.

This led to a situation of creating a host of ‘ghost parents.’

Rainbow Families Association families gather in Rome on July 25 to protest the anti-LGBTQ+ policies of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. (Photo Credit: Famiglie Arcobaleno/Facebook)

But in recent months, Italy’s right-wing government has been cracking down on city councils to stop listing same-sex parents on birth certificates, France 24 reported. Led by the hardline traditionalist Meloni, the ministry of interior issued a directive in January 2023 instructing Italian mayors to stop automatically registering the births of children conceived or born abroad through assisted reproductive methods.

It cited a case from December 2022, in which Italy’s top court ruled that a child of a gay couple who was conceived through surrogacy abroad shouldn’t have their birth certificate automatically transcribed in Italy.  

Though the directive primarily concerned surrogacy, which is banned in Italy and now even a crime for those seeking surrogacy abroad, its interpretation by local councils has disproportionally affected LGBTQ families – including those who resort to other reproductive methods.

Italy’s Minister for the Family Eugenia Roccella told Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra: “In Italy, one becomes a parent in only two ways – either by biological relationship or by adoption,” and urged same-sex parents to follow the adoption procedure.  

Currently the support for LGBTQ+ families on this issue is being provided by the LGBTQ+ rights organization, Famiglie Arcobaleno working alongside Rete Lenford, which is committed to advocacy for LGBTI+ rights as an association of lawyers, lawyers, practitioners, scholars , students and people with experience in the issues surrounding LGBTQ+ rights.

Both Rete Lenford and Famiglie Arcobaleno, are representing hundreds of cases of the affected LGBTQ+ families in court.

RUSSIA

(The following article is from Human Rights Watch)

STRASBOURG, France – Last week the European Court of Human Rights handed down a ruling in the case of Maxim Lapunov, the only victim of Chechnya’s vile 2017 anti-gay purge who dared seek justice for the torture he suffered at the hands of local law enforcement.

The court found Lapunov was “detained and subjected to ill-treatment by State agents,” which “amounted to torture” and was perpetrated “solely on account of his sexual orientation.”

European Court of Human Rights (Photo Credit: Council of Europe)

Lapunov took his case to the European Court in May 2019 because the Russian authorities had failed to investigate his assault. Despite great personal risk, Lapunov had been eager to cooperate with Russia’s investigative authorities through the assistance of his persistent lawyers from the Committee Against Torture, a leading Russian human rights group.

Tanya Lokshina, the Associate Director, Europe and Central Asia Division for Human Rights Watch noted:

“I first met Lapunov nearly six years ago, when I moderated a news conference in Moscow at which he publicly told his story for the first time. Lapunov, then 30, described to a roomful of journalists how he had been rounded up and tortured along with dozens of others. His hands shook as he detailed the horrific experience. He stopped several times to regain composure but kept going.”

A Russian from Siberia who had traveled to Chechnya for work, Lapunov did not have to face what every Chechen man caught in the purge feared: being targeted by his own relatives or exposing his entire family to overwhelming stigma because of his homosexuality. His captors threatened to kill him if he spoke out, but he refused to be silent. “We all have rights …,” he said at the news conference. “If we just let it be [in Chechnya],… we’ll never know whose son or daughter will be taken next.”

At the time, Russian authorities claimed they could not investigate the purge because no victims stepped up to testify. When Lapunov provided his staggering testimony, they still failed to investigate. In early 2019, Chechen police rounded up and tortured more men because of their presumed sexual orientation. Realizing they would never get the Russian authorities to do their job and investigate, Lapunov and his legal team filed their complaint with the European Court of Human Rights. Today, they won.

After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia lost its Council of Europe membership and there is no hope that the Russian authorities will implement this ruling anytime soon. Yet it sets the record straight. This, I hope, will serve to support all survivors of the purge.

Additional reporting from PinkNewsUK, BBC, Agence France-Presse, GCN Ireland, The Irish Times and Human Rights Watch.

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Africa

Eswatini government refuses to allow LGBTQ+ rights group to legally register

Supreme Court previously ruled in favor of Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities

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Members of the Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities, an LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group, after the Eswatini Supreme Court on May 5, 2023, heard arguments in their case in support of legally registering in the country. (Photo courtesy of Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities)

MANZINI, Eswatini — The Eswatini Commerce, Industry and Trade Ministry this week said it will not allow an LGBTQ+ rights group to register.

The country’s Supreme Court in June ruled the government must allow Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities to register.

The Registrar of Companies in 2019 denied the group’s request. Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities the following year petitioned the Supreme Court to hear their case. The Supreme Court initially ruled against the group, but it appealed the decision.

“[The] Minister of Commerce and Trade refuses to register ESGM citing the ‘Roman Dutch Law,'” said Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities on Thursday in a tweet to its X account. “This was after the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the refusal to register ESGM by the registrar was unconstitutional.”

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Canada

Saskatchewan Premier vows to bypass Canadian Charter of Rights

After court blocks Canadian province’s rule requiring schools to out trans kids, Moe vows to by-pass Canada’s Charter of Rights

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Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe speaking at Saskatchewan Polytechnic in Saskatoon on September 20, 2023. (Photo Credit: Office of the Saskatchewan Premier/Facebook)

By Rob Salerno | REGINA, Saskatchewan, Canada – Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has announced he plans to override Canada’s Charter of Rights to pass a law requiring students to get parental consent before using a name or pronoun other than the ones indicated by their birth certificate in schools, after a judge in Regina issued an injunction blocking the rule from coming into effect.

The policy was announced this summer, as a wave of Canadian provinces governed by Conservatives enacted similar rules across the country. The rules were immediately denounced by LGBT activists, teachers’ associations, and school boards, who said the rules violated trans kids’ privacy rights and right to gender expression, as well as being impractical to enforce.

In his decision Thursday, Judge Michael Megaw sided with University of Regina Pride, which filed a lawsuit seeking to have the rule struck down. Megaw’s decision doesn’t kill the rule, but blocks schools and the province from enforcing it while the constitutional challenge goes forward.

“The protection of these youth surpasses that interest expressed by the government, pending a full and complete hearing into the constitutionality of this policy,” Megaw wrote in his decision. “I find this to be one of those clear cases where injunctive relief is necessary to attempt to prevent the irreparable harm referred to pending a full hearing of this matter on its merits.”

The province had previously told the court that it drafted the policy in nine days and did not consult with stakeholders before enacting it. It also told the court that the government had received just 18 letters over the summer asking the government to enact the “parental consent” policy.

In response, Moe announced he would recall the provincial legislature on Oct 10 to pass a law backing up the rule by using the Canadian Constitution’s “notwithstanding clause,” which allows the federal and provincial governments to pass laws that violate the constitution’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A law invoking the clause can only be in effect for five years but can be renewed and cannot be challenged under the Charter of Rights in that time. 

The notwithstanding clause was included when the Canadian Charter of Rights was enacted in 1982 specifically because certain provinces were afraid that gays and lesbians would use the Charter to demand equal rights. The Liberal government at the time believed that use of the clause would be so unpopular that no government would dare try it. For most of its history, that’s been true, but there has been a growing trend of Conservative provincial governments across Canada invoking the clause to override Charter rights since 2018.

Moe’s threat to invoke the clause was immediately denounced by federal Justice Minister Arif Verani.

“We note that the government is choosing to do this despite today’s injunction which should have given them pause. A judge agreed that what the government is doing may cause irreparable harm to some of its most vulnerable young people. Just as important, they are acting before a court has had the opportunity to review their proposed policy for its constitutionality. Violating individual rights should not be a decision taken lightly,” Virani wrote in a statement posted on X, formerly Twitter. 

Trans activist Fae Johnstone, accuses Moe of using trans kids to push a wider anti-rights agenda.

“Let me be crystal clear: Premier Moe is weaponizing the public’s lack of familiarity with trans people to set a terrifying precedent: Overruling the fundamental human rights protections laid out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” she wrote on X

Moe claims that the pronouns policy is popular among parents in Saskatchewan. He won’t be up for election until fall 2024. 

“Our government is extremely dismayed by the judicial overreach of the court blocking implementation of the Parental Inclusion and Consent policy – a policy which has the strong support of a majority of Saskatchewan residents, in particular, Saskatchewan parents. The default position should never be to keep a child’s information from their parents,” Moe said in a statement.

However, in neighboring Manitoba, the incumbent Conservative government which has pledged to introduce a similar “parental consent” policy is up for reelection on Tuesday and is currently trailing in the polls behind the New Democratic Party, which has pledged to support queer and trans youth. 

New Brunswick, where the current wave of “parental consent” policies began, may also go to the polls this fall if Premier Blaine Higgs calls a snap election. His Conservative Party has been trailing narrowly in the polls behind the New Brunswick Liberals.

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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Southern-Central Asia

Pakistan resumes issuing ID cards to Transgender people

Federal Shariat Court in June ruled against trans rights law

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Kami Sid (Courtesy photo)

ISLAMABAD — Pakistani authorities have resumed the registration of Transgender people and issuing identity cards to them after the Supreme Court’s Sharia Appellate Bench on Sept. 25 ruled on the issue.

An Islamic court on June 13 ordered all data acquisition units to halt the registration of Trans people and to issue identity cards only to males or females. 

The Supreme Court in 2009 extended civil rights to the trans community. Pakistani MPs in 2018 passed a historic law, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, that guaranteed all the rights available for all citizens to Trans people, and prohibited any discrimination based on gender identity.

Jamiat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan and several other Pakistani religious political parties in 2022 raised objections to the law, stating it was un-Islamic. 

The Federal Shariat Court in May struck down three sections of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act and said Islamic teachings do not allow anyone to change their gender at their will. The court also said gender assigned at birth shall remain intact. 

The Islamic court’s June 13 verdict prohibited any new registration for an identity card with an X gender marker or update an older one. The National Database and Registration Authority after the ruling issued that halted the registration of Trans people. Individuals in Pakistan need ID cards to open bank accounts, seek legal aid, report a crime to the police, ask for medical help and receive a passport. 

NADRA is an independent agency that regulates the government database and registration of sensitive information of citizens. The Federal Shariat Court is a constitutional Islamic court that scrutinizes and determines if laws made in Parliament comply with Sharia laws.

Nayyab Ali, a Trans rights activist in Pakistan, during a telephone interview with the Washington Blade said the court’s voting bloc is based on religious elements. She also said right-wing political parties target Trans Pakistanis when they do not get publicity.

“Right-wing political parties picked up the Transgender issues in Parliament, and started hate speeches on transgender laws,” said Ali. “There is also a divide in the Transgender community in Pakistan. Some Transgender factions also support right-wing political parties to strengthen their agenda. People inside the government came from the grassroots level of society. Society has an extreme level of phobia and stigma for the Transgender population, so when they come to power, they make policies that are against the Transgender community.”

Ali told the Blade that former Prime Minister Imran Khan introduced an “Islamic utopia” in Pakistan and implemented an Islamization policy in his day-to-day politics, which created more hatred against Trans community and affected society at large. 

Ali on X, formerly known as Twitter, praised the decision that allowed the resumption of issuing ID cards to Trans people. Documents the Blade obtained indicate she is one of those who challenged the Federal Shariat Court’s decision.

Kami Sid, a Trans activist and executive director of Sub Rang Society, a Pakistan-based LGBTQ+ rights organization, said the community is happy and quite hopeful for a better future.

“First we as a community were very much worried about the Federal Shariat Court’s decision,” said Sid. “But after several advocacy and meetings we are quite hopeful for the fight against the Federal Shariat Court decision, and now quite relaxed as a Transgender activist, I must say the community is happy.”

Kami, like Ali, also challenged the Federal Shariat Court’s decision.

Kami told the Blade conservative parties over the last few years have become more willing to promote an agenda that opposes rights for women, children and Trans people. 

“Transgender rights are human rights,” said Kami. “That is why the previous government refrained from commenting on the Shariah Court ruling out of fear of the right-wing parties and because Transgender people are not a top priority.”

Kami said the Pakistani government has faced several obstacles this year regarding the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review.

Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani attended the annual UPR meeting in Geneva in January and received approximately 354 human rights-specific recommendations.

Iside Over, an online news website, reports Pakistan may not get an extension over the European Union’s Preferential Trade Arrangement over its failure to improve its human rights record, among other reasons. Kami told the Blade the Generalized System of Preference, or GSP, from the EU has put pressure on the Pakistani government to address human rights-specific issues.

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion. 

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Africa

TikTok in talks with Kenyan government to stop LGBTQ+-specific content

Official says ‘draft framework’ will be ready by end of this month

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(Public domain photo)

NAIROBI, Kenya — TikTok is the latest global digital video platform to enter talks with the Kenyan government to stop access to LGBTQ+-specific videos and other content prohibited under the country’s laws.  

TikTok, a popular short-form mobile video-streaming platform, is currently in joint talks with government officials to develop a framework for censoring such content classified under the “restricted category.”  

“A draft framework of the content regulation is being worked on by a joint team and it will be ready by the end of this month. The larger regulatory framework will address specific content like LGBTQ, explicit and terrorism materials shared on TikTok,” an official who is familiar with the discussions told the Washington Blade.

The joint team is compelled to develop the framework to regulate TikTok users who enjoy full control of videos they share on the platform without the service providers’ prior approval, unlike Netflix and other movie streaming platforms that readily classify content for users.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations are criminalized under Section 165 of Kenya’s penal code.     

The move to regulate TikTok content arises from a petitioner who wrote to the National Assembly last month demanding the country ban the social media platform for promoting what he deemed harmful and inappropriate content. 

The petitioner, Bob Ndolo, an executive officer for Briget Connect Consultancy, cited violence, explicit sexual videos, hate speech, vulgar language and offensive behavior as content with a “serious threat to cultural and religious values of Kenya” shared on TikTok. 

The petition ignited an uproar among Kenyans, particularly TikTok users who make a living from their videos through monetization. 

They asked the government not to ban the platform, but instead enact a regulatory framework to stop inappropriate content. This request prompted President William Ruto and several senior government officials to convene a virtual meeting with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew on Aug. 24 over content regulation under Kenya’s guidelines and monetization.  

Chew during the meeting committed to “moderate content to fit community standards” by removing inappropriate or offensive content from TikTok and pledged to set up an office in Nairobi to serve the African continent.   

The virtual meeting was followed by another physical one at State House between Ruto and TikTok Africa Director Fortune Sibanda on Sept. 2, where it was announced that the social platform is set to launch a national training program to empower its users on creating and promoting so-called positive content. 

TikTok has already stopped monetization for users sharing inappropriate or restricted content and deactivated their accounts as efforts to draft the regulatory work continue.

“A joint artificial intelligence tool is being used in the meantime to detect offensive content for removal and the accounts brought down,” stated the official. “It has significantly reduced inappropriate content for the last few weeks since Kenya and TikTok started engaging.”

The latest Reuters Institute Digital News Report released in June revealed that Kenya leads the world in TikTok usage with an astounding 54 percent share of global consumption. Thailand and South Africa follow with 51 percent and 50 percent respectively.   

The Kenya Film Classification Board, the country’s film regulator, signed an agreement with Netflix in February this year to stop the streaming of LGBTQ+-specific movies. The regulatory body is part of the ongoing talks with TikTok. 

The KFCB is also yet to finalize its talks with Showmax and two local video-on-demand platforms to stop the streaming of LGBTQ+-specific movies.    

The regulatory body derives its powers from the Films and Stage Act that regulates the exhibition, distribution, possession or broadcasting of content to the public. 

The ever-changing digital technologies that include TikTok and other social media platforms have prompted the KFCB to reconsider its regulatory framework by coming up with new measures. 

One such proposal, dubbed the Kenya Film Bill, would empower the KFCB to classify and regulate content in this digital era to stop ones that go against government-mandated standards. 

The Information, Communication and Technology Ministry last week appointed a special team to look into existing laws and recommend policy and regulatory framework for the digital platforms. The ministry’s senior officials, including Assistant Minister John Tanui, are also taking part in the talks with TikTok.

The ministry’s newly unveiled panel will also ask whether the Kenya Film Bill can be enacted independently or combined with new legislative proposals.  

The regulation of TikTok content in Kenya comes amid the anticipated introduction of the Family Protection Bill in the National Assembly that would criminalize any form of promotion of LGBTQ+ activities with harsh punishment of at least 10 years in jail or not less than a $67,000 fine or both.     

TikTok in April 2022 suspended the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ+ rights group in the U.S., for a couple of days after it included the word “gay” in a reel against Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law. The company determined the post violated “community guidelines.”

A British lawmaker criticized TikTok in September 2019 over reports that it censored LGBTQ+-specific content, such as two men kissing or holding hands, and artificially prevented LGBTQ+ users’ posts from going viral in some countries.

Theo Bertram, TikTok’s director of public policy in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, apologized to the British parliamentary committee and confirmed the company only removes such LGBTQ+-specific content if law enforcement agencies in countries of operation request it.

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Africa

Seven men linked to kidnapping of Grindr users in South Africa arrested

Advocacy groups welcomed arrests, urged authorities to investigate other cases

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South African flag (Photo by Rarraroro via Bigstock)

JOHANNESBURG — South African LGBTQ+ organizations have welcomed the arrest of seven suspects linked to a series of kidnappings liked to Grindr.

Several Grindr users in South Africa in recent months have been kidnapped for ransom through the dating app.

The South African Police Service said the seven suspects were arrested following an investigation into the kidnapping of an 18-year-old Wits University student on Sept. 19.

SAPS said suspects demanded $1,500 for the student’s release. Authorities set up a sting operation and a breakthrough came on Sept. 20 when they identified an ATM where one of the suspects was expected to withdraw the ransom money. Officers placed one of the suspects under arrest as soon as he arrived, and he agreed to show them where the victim was being held captive.

“The student was reported missing the same day by his roommate. It is reported that he was lured to the suspects through a dating site called Grindr,” said SAPS spokesperson Brenda Muridili. “Afterwards, the police conducted surveillance and arrested one suspect as soon as he arrived. He then led the authorities to the Denver Men’s Hostel (in Johannesburg), where they discovered the 18-year-old victim bound and unconscious. Six additional suspects were apprehended, and the victim was rushed to the hospital for medical attention.” 

Muridili also said there is a high possibility that the suspects are further linked to 86 similar Grindr-related cases.

“We cannot rule out the possibility because this is not the first case of its kind,” said Muridili. “We have several cases that are being investigated.”

Access Chapter 2 Media Liaison Officer Mpho Buntse said the organization welcomed the arrest, but it still worried about why such incidents continue to take place.

“We congratulate SAPS in Johannesburg for acting swiftly in arresting seven homophobes who have been using Grindr, to terrorize and torture their victims. We believe that this arrest is a firm demonstration of the force’s commitment to confront crimes of this nature. As an organization, we have been vocal in calling for swift action, as many of these cases have been reported to the organization,” said Buntse. “However, we are deeply concerned at the sporadic nature of these syndicates. Not so long ago, we celebrated the arrest of the initial Grindr kidnapping and extortion group in the area of Johannesburg, which gave rise to this newly arrested group. It raises a sharp concern as to why these groups keep emerging.”

Gauteng Police in February arrested four men who they say used Grindr to extort and victimize LGBTQ+ people.

“We continue to call upon members of the community, gay men in particular to limit the use of the application where it poses threats, we further acknowledge the erotic justice due to queer persons and the freedom to associate without fear and prejudice,” said Buntse. “We also commend Grindr for listening to the call to strengthen the safety of the app.”

Out Human Rights Coordinator Sibonelo Ncanana echoed Buntse, but questioned why the police are not actively investigating similar cases in other provinces.

“We are happy that seven suspects have been arrested but we need that same swiftness that happened in Gauteng to also transpire in other provinces because there are other similar cases that have not been solved or investigated that involve Grindr,” said Ncanana. “This worries us a lot but we are grateful and appreciate the swift response of the police hopefully it will extend to other provinces.” 

Ruth Maseko of the Triangle Project said LGBTQ+ people continue to be targeted because of their place in society, even though Grindr and other dating apps have issued warnings to their users.

“Although no dating app is necessarily safe, LGBTIQ persons can be viewed by prospective suspects as easy targets because of the stigma surrounding orientation and identity,” said Maseko. “This means that it may be the thinking of perpetrators that LGBTIQ people will not report these incidents and give in to extortion.”

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World

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

LGBTQ+ stories from around the globe including Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Wales, Scotland focusing on events that matter

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AUSTRALIA

Victorian Pride Centre Melbourne (Photo Credit: Victorian Pride Centre)

MELBOURNE – A group has petitioned the Australian Human Rights Commission for an exemption to hold ‘Lesbians Born Female only’ events that exclude transgender people at the Victorian Pride Centre for the next five years.

Lesbian Action Group Melbourne, wrote in their petition to apply for the exemption that the group, exclude “Heterosexual, Bisexual and Gay males, Heterosexual and Bisexual females, Transgender people and Queer plus people.”

The Sydney Star-Observer, Australia’s largest LGBTQ+ media outlet, reported that the event would be held to celebrate International Lesbian Day at the Victorian Pride Centre on October 15, 2023.

Under Australian codes the AHRC is empowered under Section 44 of the Sex Discrimination Act of 1984 (Cth) to grant temporary exemptions for up to five years from the provisions of the anti-discrimination law.

According to the Star-Observer, the group said it was set up to promote and organize events for “lesbian born females “without the fear of being hauled before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, as we have in the past and told our exclusive lesbian born female events are illegal and having to cancel them”. 

The group claimed that over the past two decades, they were able to “organize and hold private lesbian meetings and gatherings over these past 20 years to avoid any more challenges by the Transgender community”. The application then went on to allege that “lesbians who publicly speak out about Lesbian rights are also sacked from their jobs, ridiculed and threatened with all kinds of abuse.”

PERTH – Australian NBL professional basketball star Corey Webster was suspended for two games after he posted homophobic remarks to his X/Twitter social media account. In the now deleted tweets, Webster replying to a post that asked: “What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you see this flag”, accompanied by the LGBTQ+ Rainbow Pride flag,” said: “Mental illness.”

After Perth Wildcats fans and followers started calling out him for the blatant homophobia Webster posted a follow-up that read in all caps: “PROTECT THE CHILDREN,” and put his social media profile on private.

Corey Webster (Photo Credit: Perth Wildcats)

The team reacted issuing an apology and also released an apology from Webster. In his statement the player said:

“While it certainly wasn’t my intent, I understand the hurt my comments have caused and I am sincerely sorry for this. It wasn’t how I intended my comments to be perceived and I will take a break from social media and use that time to better educate myself on the impact comments such as this can make on individuals I may have offended.”

Perth Wildcats team owner Richard Simkiss said: “We are really disappointed in these comments and have made this clear to Corey. They don’t reflect our values, and we have committed to working with Corey to help educate him about the harm such comments can bring. As a community driven club, we stand for inclusiveness and have strongly supported the NBL’s Pride Round. We look forward to promoting this initiative again in the upcoming season. Our values are clear – we want to bring people together in a positive way and we understand our responsibility as leaders in the community to live these values both on and off the court.”

VIETNAM

Vogue dance battle in Ho Chi Minh City (Screenshot/YouTube)

HO CHI MINH CITY – A decidedly queer subculture import from the United States that gained rapid popularity in this vibrant southern Vietnamese metropolis is providing a safe haven for gay and trans youth.

Al-Jazeera contributor Xuan-Tung Le reported during a recent event, a catwalk for would-be models with fiery dance-off battles, as well as an emotional celebration of kinship between Vietnam’s queer people– all rolled into a single evening of deep connections for trans people especially.

Le notes that not to be confused with ballroom dancing, which evolved from the heterosexual courtship tradition of European aristocrats, ballroom culture emerged in the 1960s among marginalized Black and Latino queer people in the United States.

Gathering at a “ball” function, queer people “walk” to show off their talents in dancing, lip-syncing, performing and catwalk modelling as a way to both compete on the night and, more broadly, transcend the everyday realities of gender identities, occupational roles and social status assigned in society.

Viral videos of voguing battles have also been helped by the digital power of YouTube and TikTok algorithms, giving people around the world access to the dance form Le added.

“Ballroom is more than dancing,” Minerva Sun Mizrahi using a stage name preferring that their real name not be used told Al Jazeera.

“Here, people can vogue, do runway walk, or simply look and act straight-passing – all are considered talents,” Minerva said.

“It is a space to empower queer people.”

Another queer performer told Al Jazeera that social acceptance of trans people also lags behind in Vietnam, even in Saigon where gay men and women enjoy relative acceptance in society. Naomi Sun, also using a preferred stage name, told Al Jazeera: “That is why ballroom events are so unique, as they are one of the few safe spaces in Saigon where trans women can just “let loose and have fun,” Sun said.

“You don’t have to do anything to your body or take hormones; just dress up as a fem queen [which is the ballroom slang for a trans woman], go there, and live your dream as a fem queen,” she said. “It’s fine! That’s how ballroom is.”

Related: Vietnam’s ‘ballroom’ culture: A safe space to celebrate trans people (Link)

MALAYSIA

NEW YORK – In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim says Malaysia will never recognize LGBTQ rights. Recently prison sentences were threatened for selling rainbow watches. “I wouldn’t defend that,” Ibrahim tells the veteran journalist. He says he’d like to see things change, but must respect the consensus of the people.

Anwar said that as prime minister, he has to respect the consensus of Malaysians and that they do not accept public displays of LGBTQ+. “The Muslims, non -Muslims, Christians, Hindus or Buddhists, they have a consensus in the country. They do not accept this (LGBTQ+).,” he said. However, he said while there is a need to exercise some degree of tolerance, harassment has to be avoided.

Anwar on Malaysia’s stand on LGBTQ+ issue:

UNITED KINGDOM

Aristedes Haynes, the 17-year-old behind a number of racist and homophobic vandalism incidents in South Wales (Booking photo via the South Wales Police)

LONDON – A 17-year-old teen male from South Wales has been publicly named after being convicted and sentenced on Thursday, September 21, for a homophobic and racist vandalism crime spree in South Wales and Cardiff.

Haynes and a second 15-year-old male accomplice carried out several racially and homophobically charged counts of criminal damage across South Wales, including extremist Nazi graffiti on a Windrush mural in Port Talbot where the teen was living at the time.

British LGBTQ+ media outlet PinkNewsUK reported that just hours after the mural, depicting local beloved nurse Donna Campbell and her mother Lydie, was complete, it was daubed with swastikas, the words “Nazi zone”, and a racial slur.

The presiding justice, Jeremy Baker, sent the teen to jail for one year and seven months and ordered the former Royal Air Force Cadet to an additional one year’s probation.

According to SKY News, Counter terrorism police in Wales last year began investigating the two teenagers in connection with “several offenses of racially and homophobically aggravated criminal damage”.

A smoke bomb was also rolled into The Queer Emporium, an LGBTQ+ business in Cardiff city center.

The 15-year-old, from Tonyrefail, South Wales, appeared at Cardiff Youth Court and pleaded guilty on August 15 to one charge of criminal damage and four charges of racially aggravated criminal damage. He was given community service for one year, and probation for two additional years and ordered to pay £100 ($122.42 USD) compensation to The Queer Emporium.

In the case of Hayes, Justice Baker said the teen had “essentially became self-radicalized” and held “entrenched” racist, antisemitic and homophobic views.

“I am satisfied that not only did you hold entrenched racist, antisemitic and homophobic views at the time of the commission of these offenses, but that these are views which you have not genuinely disavowed,” the judge told him at his sentencing. “It is apparent that you were not someone who limited your behavior to the expression of your views online, but were prepared to put some of those views into action,” he added.

The Judge also noted, “It is of particular concern that not only had you asserted that one of your goals in life was to kill someone….but you had already carried out research as to the availability of one of the components for constructing a gun.”

According to Counter Terrorism Policing Wales Detective Chief Inspector Andrew Williams who spoke at the sentencing:

“For the older boy in particular, it became evident that he was also involved in the online distribution of extreme right-wing material, which clearly fell into the space governed by terrorism legislation,” he said.

“The offences were particularly abhorrent in nature and understandably caused upset to many people, both within the communities the boys targeted, and beyond.

“The sentencing today concludes the investigation and enables professionals to work intensively with them in the hope that they can lead far more productive lives in their respective futures.”

EDINBURGH – The court battle over to overturn the UK Secretary of State for Scotland, Alister Jack’s, veto block of the Gender Recognition Reform ended this week with a ruling by Judge Lady Shona Haldane of the Court of Session in Edinburgh not expected for “some time” according to a statement from the court.

The Court of Session in Edinburgh. (Photo Credit: scotcourts.gov.uk)

Haldane said after the judicial review concluded a day earlier than expected – that she will take “some time” to reach her decision on the matter. She added she write her opinion following what she described as a “unique, very interesting and challenging case.”

The Gender Recognition Reform bill introduced by the Scottish government to Holyrood (parliament) last Spring was passed in a final 86-39 vote days before this past Christmas 2022. The sweeping reform bill modifies the Gender Recognition Act, signed into law in 2004, by allowing transgender Scots to gain legal recognition without the need for a medical diagnosis.

The measure further stipulates that age limit for legal recognition is lowered to 16.

Alister Jack had released a statement indicating that with the backing of Number 10 Downing Street, he would use a Section 35 order under the Scotland Act to block the King’s signature which is referred to as Royal assent.

Under Section 35 of the Scotland Act, UK ministers can stop a bill getting royal assent. Jack can do so if he is of the opinion that a Holyrood bill would modify laws reserved to Westminster and have an “adverse effect” on how those laws apply.

PinkNewsUK reported the legislation itself was not discussed, with the case instead focusing on whether or not the Jack had the legal right to veto the bill. 

Whoever loses the case, when Haldane issues her ruling, will have the right to appeal the outcome at The Court of Session Inner House. Whoever loses that appeal will have the option to take the case to the Supreme Court in London. 

This means, regardless of the result, the political and legal battle could go on for months, or even years.  

Additional reporting from the Star Observer, Al Jazeera, CNN, Sky News, & PinkNewsUK

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Africa

Kenyan lawmaker’s bill would further crackdown on LGBTQ+ rights

Provisions include 50-year prison sentence for gays and lesbians convicted of non-consensual sex

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Kenya flag (Photo by rarrarorro/Bigstock)

NAIROBI, Kenya — A fresh bid to prevent the recognition of and equal rights for LGBTQ+ people in Kenya through a constitutional amendment has been introduced in Parliament.

The move is in response to this month’s ruling from Kenya’s highest court affirming its February decision that allowed the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission to register as a non-governmental organization.

Opposition MP Peter Kaluma, an outspoken critic of homosexuality, is the sponsor of the new initiative that is part of tightening the noose on LGBTQ+ people after the Kenyan Supreme Court dismissed his petition that challenged its February ruling. 

Kaluma wanted the ruling reversed since the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission advocates for homosexuality, which is against the law, and sought the court’s clarification on the term “sex” to exclude LGBTQ+ persons.  

Kaluma has already written to National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula, notifying him of his proposal to have the term “sex” redefined in the constitution by repealing Article 259 (4) which judges perceive to also include consensual same-sex sexual relations. 

“This will seal the constitutional gaps the courts are exploiting to introduce homosexuality into the country under the guise of ‘judicial interpretation’ and secure the legislative mandate retained in Parliament and constitutional-making power remains with the people,” Kaluma said. 

He faults the judges for interpreting the term “sex” under Article 27 (4) of the constitution to also refer to sexual orientation of any gender, whether heterosexual, lesbian, gay, intersex, or otherwise, not to be discriminated from sexual identity. 

The controversial court’s verdicts have sparked an uproar in the country since Article 45 of the constitution only recognizes consensual opposite-sex sexual relations and Section 162 of the penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations. 

In redefining “sex” in law, Kaluma wants the term to be limited to the biological state of being male or female as assigned at birth and not “foreign sexual orientation and gender identity ideology” which he argues the judges based on wrongly. The MPs proposal to redefine sex, however, would not impact intersex people in Kenya since their recognition and sex identity are protected under a landmark law that took effect in July 2022. 

Kaluma notes that the court’s ruling renders sex/gender fluidity away from the biological state of being male or female “to over 150 current gender categories abbreviated as LGBTQ+” which has serious consequences for women in terms of equality.     

“The courts, unelected arms of government not directly accountable to the people, have been the weakest link in the battle for family values across the world. The Supreme Court of the United States failed the Americans and the European courts have failed the Europeans,” the MP said.  

Kaluma, who has also sponsored a stiffer anti-homosexuality bill that awaits introduction in the House, added “we are in a war not only to save our society but to salvage humanity from the LGBTQ+ perversion”. 

The lawmaker has also sought to strengthen his anti-homosexuality measure by adding punitive clauses, including one that would impose a maximum sentence of 50 years in prison for gays and lesbians who are found guilty of engaging in non-consensual sex. Other provisions include a ban on gay Pride parades, assemblies, street marches, cross-dressing in public and all LGBTQ+-related activities.

The MP has also proposed proposes a fine of $14,000 or a 7-year prison sentence for owners of premises used for same-sex sexual practices. 

“I urge all persons and institutions of goodwill to stand firm and ready themselves to fight against homosexuality. Even when we don’t win before the courts as is the case across the world, I am certain we will win before the people’s representatives in parliament,” Kaluma stated. 

Muslim and Christian religious authorities last Saturday staged anti-homosexuality protests in the coastal city of Mombasa, which is the country’s second largest city. Protesters condemned and denounced the Supreme Court’s ruling and asking President William Ruto to “unequivocally denounce LGBTQ” like his Ugandan counterpart, Yoweri Museveni.  

The Kenya Muslims National Advisory Council, a leading Muslim governing body, on Thursday also condemned the Supreme Court and demanded the ouster of Chief Justice Martha Koome and other judges who ruled in favor of the LGBTQ+ community. The group argues the ruling offends Kenya’s social, cultural and religious beliefs while asking the president and Parliament to be “firm” like Uganda, which enacted a harsh anti-homosexuality law in May.    

A presidential education reform working group last month in a detailed report presented to Ruto after gathering views across the country recommended the teachers’ employers to hire pastors and Imams in elementary and high schools to help fight homosexuality and other so-called immoral practices. This call came after the Education Ministry in March confirmed to MPs its decision to form a Chaplains Committee, led by Kenya’s Anglican Church Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit, to stop the infiltration of LGBTQ+ practices in schools.

The working group’s report has yet to be introduced in Parliament.

Kenya’s relentless move to curb homosexuality comes at a time when top government officials, politicians, and during this week’s U.N. General Assembly in New York raised concerns over backlash against LGBTQ+ and intersex rights around the world.

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Canada

Eight jailed across Canada in anti-LGBTQ rallies against sex ed

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemns bigotry as counterprotests outnumber anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrators in most cities

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Protests sparked across Canada over gender policies in schools Wednesday, September 20, 2023. (Screenshot/YouTube CBC)

By Rob Salerno | OTTAWA, Canada -A highly coordinated series of anti-LGBT protests rocked more than 80 cities across Canada Wednesday, in a significant escalation of tactics by Canada’s anti-LGBTQ extremists.

The coordinated protests dubbed “1 Million March 4 Children” are demanding an end to discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity in Canadian classrooms. They come as several Canadian provinces have enacted policies that require students to have parental permission to change their preferred name or pronoun used in schools, and shortly after the federal Conservative Party adopted a series of anti-trans policies at its national convention.

According to its website, 1 Million March 4 Children is calling for “the elimination of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) curriculum, pronouns, gender ideology and mixed bathrooms in schools.” The website also lists among its supporters numerous groups that were opposed to masking policies during the COVID-19 pandemic, anti-vaccine groups, groups that promote conspiracy theories, and groups that support the truck convoys that laid siege to Ottawa and several US border crossings last year.

Protests happened from coast to coast, in big cities, suburbs, and small towns, but in most cases, they were met with coordinated counter-protests in support of LGBT rights who greatly outnumbered the protesters. 

CBC reported that counter-protesters numbered roughly double the anti-LGBT protesters in St. John’s, Newfoundland.  

Inclusive sex education has long been part of school curriculums in most provinces in Canada and has generally enjoyed support from all major political parties.

While the protests where mostly peaceful, at least four anti-LGBT protesters were arrested after getting into altercations with counter-protestors in British Columbia, and police advised that the protest in front of the provincial legislature had become “unsafe.”

Police in Nanaimo, BC tackled and arrested one man who attempted to flee after allegedly getting into a physical altercation at City Hall. Two protestors were also arrested in Victoria, BC as they demonstrated in front of the provincial legislature, and another protester was arrested in Vancouver, BC. Police in both cities did not provide additional information.

Ottawa police also arrested two protesters for allegedly inciting hatred and another for causing a disturbance in at the protest in front of Parliament.

And Toronto police arrested 47-year-old protester Julia Stevenson for allegedly bringing a weapon to the demonstration outside the provincial legislature. Police did not give further details about what kind of weapon she is alleged to have been carrying.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was at the UN General Assembly in New York, condemned the anti-LGBT protests in a tweet on X, formerly Twitter.

“Let me make one thing very clear: Transphobia, homophobia, and biphobia have no place in this country. We strongly condemn this hate and its manifestations, and we stand united in support of 2SLGBTQI+ Canadians across the country – you are valid and you are valued,” he wrote.

Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre did not put out any statement on the protests, nor did deputy leader Melissa Lantsman, who is openly lesbian and has previously spoken out on LGBT issues on behalf of the party. 

The leader of the left-leaning New Democratic Party Jagmeet Singh joined the counter-protestors who demonstrated in Ottawa and marched toward Parliament Hill.

“We know that there’s a lot of folks that don’t feel safe because of the rise in hate and division that’s targeting vulnerable people,” Singh told CTV. “But then you see a lot of people coming together, and it shows the strength of solidarity, of us supporting each other, of having each other’s back.”

Alberta Teachers’ Association President Jason Schilling says the protesters are part of a North America-wide movement fomenting hatred against queer people using misinformation and lies.

“Using ‘parental consent’ as camouflage, this rally was part of a coordinated strike across North America to promote misinformation, intolerance and hate toward the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, as well as toward teachers who work to protect the safety and well-being of all students,” Schilling said in a statement.

In many cities, the anti-LGBT protests were officially condemned by mayors and school boards.

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow, who has publicly supported LGBT rights since the 1980s, issued a strong statement condemning the protests

“We stand against all forms of discrimination, hatred and bigotry, and for the safety and well-being of all young people. Some wish to target our schools and libraries to spread hate. We know these must be spaces that welcome everyone, especially students,” Chow wrote.

The city of Whitehorse, Yukon issued a statement condemning bigotry in advance of the protests.

“While the City supports people’s right to organize and protest, we stand by our 2SLGBTQIA+ community members and their right to live their true selves safely and free of harassment and hate. The promotion of anti-2SLGBTQIA+ ideas has no place in our community and messages that target fellow community members will not be tolerated,” the statement says.

However, the Premier of New Brunswick Blaine Higgs, who was the first to introduce a “parental consent” policy for trans students, joined the protesters in front of the provincial legislature in Fredericton. 

“I think our parents should become knowledgeable about what their kids are being taught and what is important for them to learn in schools and what’s important for parents to make decisions on with kids that are under 16 years old,” Higgs told reporters.

BC Conservative Party leader went further in a statement on the protests. While he says he doesn’t “officially” support the protests, if his party wins next year’s election, he promised to cancel the province’s sex ed curriculum and implied he would ban trans girls from sports.

Protests sparked across Canada over gender policies in schools:

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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India

India penal code reform bills do not include LGBTQ+, intersex rights

Supreme Court earlier this year heard marriage equality cases

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Indian flag (Photo by Rahul Sapra via Bigstock)

NEW DELHI — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2019 said that all the laws implemented during British rule should be made in accordance with modern norms and with society’s interests in account after adequate discussion and consideration. The government this year introduced a bill that would amend India’s criminal laws, but the measure is not inclusive.

Home Minister Amit Shah on Aug. 11 introduced the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill 2023, Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita Bill 2023 and Bharatiya Sakhshya Bill 2023 in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian Parliament. The three bills would replace the Indian Penal Code of 1860, the Criminal Procedure Code of 1898 and the Indian Evidence Act of 1872.

Shah said while introducing the bill that these three laws strengthened and protected British rule, and their purpose was to punish, not to give justice.

“The soul of three new laws will be to protect all the rights given to Indian citizens by the constitution, and their purpose will not be to punish but give justice,” said Shah. “These three laws made with Indian thought process will bring a huge change in our criminal justice system.”

Shah, while introducing the bill, also said that the government has taken a very principled decision to bring citizens to the center, instead of governance. These laws, however, still fail to be inclusive. 

Chapter Five of the proposed revision to the penal code, which deals with offenses against women and children, did not talk about people who do not fall under specified categories, leaving out LGBTQ+ and intersex rights.

Section 63 of the code still defines rape as sexual assault by a man against a woman and continues to preserve gender stereotypes. The definition fails to recognize sexual assault by a man against another man or by a woman against another woman.

Another concerning section of the proposed criminal code, Section 38, would extend the right to private defense of the body to voluntarily causing the death of or any other harm to an assailant if an assault is with the intention of gratifying “unnatural lust.” The code does not define “unnatural lust” though it is very similar to now abolished Section 377 that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations.

The Supreme Court in 2018 decriminalized homosexuality in India, thus repealing Section 377. 

The British first introduced Section 377 and it was modelled on the Buggery Act of 1533. Thomas Macaulay in 1838 wrote the colonial-era law and it came into force in 1860. The Buggery Act defined buggery as an unnatural sexual activity against the will of God and man. 

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code defines unnatural offenses as whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Even though Section 377 has been repealed, the new criminal laws do not include the LGBTQ+ and intersex community under the same legal protection that is available to others. The new bill fails to mention LGBTQ+ and intersex people, leaving out any protection against violent crime. 

There are no official statistics available on crimes against LGBTQ+ and intersex people, including those based on sexual orientation or gender identity, in India.

“The language of the new laws has undergone substantial positive changes to further include the LGBTQ community. After the passage of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2019, the proposed new criminal laws also have gender-inclusive language,” said Krishna Deva Rao, vice chancellor of the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research in Telangana state. “For instance, the meaning of the term ‘gender’ has been expanded as section 2(9) of Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (the law to replace the existing Indian Penal Code 1860) now defines ‘gender’ as the pronoun ‘he’ and its derivatives are used of any person, whether male, female or transgender. The penal law in Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita has also formally removed the controversial provision Section 377 from the IPC.”

Rao said that the government should have done a better job of further addressing the discriminatory treatment meted out to such marginalized communities. 

In an email to the Washington Blade, Rao said that despite the Supreme Court’s landmark NALSA verdict in 2014, the government has yet to provide horizontal reservations to the Transgender community.

“Despite the passage of the Transgender Persons Act 2019, the concerns of the community remain unredressed as the penalties provided therein are very low. Similarly, despite the 2014 Supreme Court verdict providing for self-determination of gender identity without having to undergo surgical intervention, the 2019 Act and related rules are interpreted in a way to mandate surgery,” said Rao. “Recently, in August 2023 Hyderabad police came under heavy scrutiny for cracking down on a begging racket. The police personnel discriminated against members of the Transgender community because they had not undergone surgery or had genitalia not corresponding to their identified gender.”

In a statement made about Chapter Five of the newly proposed Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Act, Rao said that the law catered to address crimes against women and children. Rao added it should have been expanded to include the LGBTQ+ and intersex community as well.

“While Section 377 has been struck down from the IPC, as per the landmark Navtej Singh Johar decision by the Supreme Court of India in 2018 the provision was only partially read down to exclude consensual homosexual relationships. By removing the provision entirely, non-consensual or illegal acts of intercourse against men as well as Transgender community are left completely unaddressed by the new penal law,” said Rao. “The arrest and medical examination safeguards under the criminal procedure have been exclusively catered to the protection of women. For instance, women survivors of sexual abuse have to be medically examined in a prescribed way, women can’t be arrested after sunset and before sunrise, etc. Such procedures should also be extended to people from the LGBTQ community. Similarly, when Transgender persons have to be examined, they should be allowed to provide their written consent for the gender of the doctor.”

Two Supreme Court judges in their 2014 NALSA vs. Union of India ruling said that Trans people fall within the purview of the Indian constitution and thus are fully entitled to the rights guaranteed therein. 

“In a country which once considered us to be a ‘minuscule populace’, the LGBTQIA+ community has been overlooked as a demographic group to be considered during any revelations of the constitution,” said Ankana Dey of Sappho for Equality, an activist forum for lesbian, bisexual woman and Trans men. “In research in 2018, the LGBTQIA+ group was one of the 12 groups in India that was least represented in any research or legislative amendments. In context to the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita bill, it is no different for us. However, the LGBTQIA+ movement will continue to fight for its rights and representation in legal reforms. LGBTQIA+ activists and groups will continue to navigate the laws and policies in order to bring relief of some form to the community and will continue spreading that information with a bottoms-up approach.”  

In an email to the Blade, Dey said that every time Sappho for Equality’s team is in the field, they work along the lines of advocacy and try to strike a dialogue with the legal representatives of the state such as police, lawyers and paralegal workers.

“Through these dialogues, we understood that the laws which have been passed and have not been circulated enough within the networks of legal representatives. Most of the lawyers in our state are unaware of what constitutes the NALSA judgment, The Transgender Persons Protection of Rights Act and Bill, and even the Mental Healthcare Act. The State Legal Services Authority (SALSA) categorically mentions that any person from the LGBTQIA+ community who has faced violence and discrimination has the right to free legal services from the state,” said Dey. “Albeit most of the community persons are not aware of this service and even if they are, money extortion and intimidation are grave concerns that make these services severely inaccessible. Some of these dialogues have translated into heated conversations since most lawmakers do not enjoy being told that their knowledge lacks constructive information and their work generally surrounds misinformation, stigma, and stereotypes associated with us. Despite this, we are hellbent on continuing our fight to counter the legalities that affect us negatively. We are intently striving towards working with lawyers at a regional level and sensitizing them about queer-Trans* lives and liveabilities.”

Dey said that most of these bills that would specifically address Trans lives have not been implemented since the NALSA ruling in 2014. She said there is a severe lack of implementation of these laws at the grassroots level.

“We strongly believe that with the revised IPC that deals with offenses against women and children, there is an urgent need to expand the very definition of a ‘woman,’” said Dey.

While talking to the Blade, Harish Iyer, an equal rights activist, said he hopes that the actual draft will be more inclusive for all genders and sexualities.

“I think culture is not static, culture is evolutionary. Our laws also have evolved from time to time. We have made more progressive laws. With gender and sexuality, I would hope that the changes in laws would be more inclusive for all citizens of India,” said Iyer. “It is an Indian culture to accept different sexuality. British culture was Section 377 of IPC. If we are going to define the law that is not IPC, it becomes imperative for us to follow Indian culture. We have always accepted and respected LGBTQI+ people.”

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion. 

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United Nations

Global anti-LGBTQ+ rights backlash overshadows UN General Assembly

Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act signed into law in May

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U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) speaks about LGBTQ+ and intersex rights in Africa during an event on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Sept. 18, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

NEW YORK — Government officials, politicians and activists who traveled to New York for the U.N. General Assembly expressed their growing concern over the global backlash against LGBTQ+ and intersex rights.

“The emergence of this new wave of anti-LGBTQ+ laws first of all is scary, but secondly is deadly,” said U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) on Monday during an event the African Services Committee hosted in Manhattan. “We have to really understand what’s at stake with these laws.”

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad, and Dr. Rebecca Bunnell, acting principal deputy coordinator for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, are among those who also spoke at the event. Outright International Executive Director Maria Sjödin, Rainbow Railroad Executive Director Kimahli Powell, activists from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Ghana and journalist Anne-Christine d’Adesky also participated.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on May 29 signed his country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.” Lawmakers in Kenya and Tanzania over the last year have proposed similar measures.

A bill that would criminalize LGBTQ+ and intersex identity and allyship in Ghana is currently before the country’s lawmakers. Police in Nigeria’s Delta state last month arrested more than 200 people at a same-sex wedding.

Lee noted African leaders who champion these bills and laws have alliances with U.S.-based groups that oppose LGBTQ+ and intersex rights.

“Hate is everywhere and it’s really important that our government do a better job of tracking — of course U.S. persons and organizations and what their role has been advancing these laws,” said the California Democrat.

D’Adesky noted Congress has yet to reauthorize PEPFAR and there is “an enormous fight.”

“The anti-LGBTQ forces, which are the family values (supporters) in the GOP and the extreme right, have been using this issue of HIV funding and HIV programs as a kind of proxy … to go after democratic societies, not just here in the United States, but everywhere,” said D’Adesky. “It’s a very deliberate strategy to link the issue of LGBTQ rights and homosexuality with HIV service provision.”

President Joe Biden on Tuesday in his U.N. General Assembly speech noted PEPFAR has saved “more than 25 million lives” in more than 55 countries around the world.

President Joe Biden speaks at the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 19, 2023. (Screen capture via Associated Press YouTube)

American officials earlier this year postponed a meeting on PEPFAR’s work in Uganda in order to assess the Anti-Homosexuality Act’s potential impact on it. 

UNAIDS in a report it released in July raised concerns over a spike in HIV among gay and transgender people in eastern and southern Africa due to anti-homosexuality laws. The U.N. body noted laws that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations remain a significant obstacle in preventing and treating HIV among LGBTQ+ and intersex people.

“We have been trying to find communities and groups that can ensure that everybody has access to life saving services for HIV testing, prevention, PrEP, treatment, etc.,” said Bunnell during the African Services Committee event.

Bunnell, who previously lived and worked in Uganda, described the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act as “horrific.” Bunnell nevertheless added the law has made LGBTQ+, intersex and HIV-specific issues more visible.

“At some level it’s really heartening to see that we are at least able to talk openly and have a conversation where we are now addressing issues that were completely hidden at that time,” she said. “We’re in a very challenging, but better place in that sense.”

Bunnell said she and her colleagues are in “active communication” with Stern and other Biden-Harris administration officials to see “what we can do, where could we restrict funding, where could we make statements, where can we protest against the absolutely horrific legislation in Uganda, where can we more proactively look at other countries that we’ve heard from today.”

The U.S. in June imposed visa restrictions on Ugandan officials. 

The World Bank Group on Aug. 8 announced the suspension of new loans to Uganda. The European Union last week said it would continue to provide funding to the country. 

Sjödin after the African Services Committee event noted to the Washington Blade that the World Bank has human rights safeguards in place. Sjödin stressed, however, the issue of cutting aid to countries with anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-intersex rights records is “extremely nuanced.”

“I don’t think that cutting aide is a general remedy for any of this,” said Sjödin. “I don’t think that in general you can say, oh stop all foreign aid to any country where discrimination occurs because as we know this is not isolated to a few countries in Africa. We do know that LGBTIQ people are actively persecuted in many more.”

Openly gay Irish prime minister speaks at UN LGBTQ+, intersex rights event

Biden in his General Assembly speech referenced violence and persecution based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield during an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Monday described Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act as “horrific” and said the U.S. “is doing everything in our power to support the LGBTQ community in Uganda, to ensure their safety and to ensure they are not damaged by this law.”  

“We are looking at … how we can continue to provide the good support that PEPFAR provides directly to individuals, to help save their lives without putting that funding through the Ugandan government or through individuals in the Ugandan government who are responsible for implementing this law,” said Thomas-Greenfield. “It’s a huge dilemma, but we have to find a way to do that and we have to find a way to hold those accountable who are basically violating the human rights of the LGBTQ community in Uganda.”

Lee reiterated her criticisms of the Anti-Homosexuality Act when she spoke at an event at the U.N. on Monday that marked the U.N. LGBTI Core Group’s 15th anniversary.

“The United States is deeply troubled by Uganda’s passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act,” said Lee. “The legislation has already led to arrest, violence and evictions of LGBTQI+ Ugandans and undermine the safety of human rights defenders and healthcare providers serving this population.” 

“The United States and Uganda have enjoyed long standing cooperation that have benefited our bilateral relationship and made the region healthier, more prosperous and more secure,” she added. “However, our partnership and Uganda’s standing on the world stage is at risk due to the worsening trends of a closing political and civic space and increasing violations and abuses of human rights, the threat of privacy and the safety of everyone in Uganda, including through the enactment and enforcement of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. These actions ferment hate, support violence, and are no threat to the principle of human rights, development and good governance enshrined in the (Universal) Declaration (of Human Rights.)”

The U.S. is among the dozens of countries that are members of the U.N. LGBTI Core Group, a group of U.N. countries that have pledged to support LGBTQ+ and intersex rights.

Lee noted Singapore, the Cook Islands, Antigua and Barbuda and St. Kitts and Nevis over the last year have decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations. The California Democrat also highlighted Switzerland and Slovenia in 2022 extended marriage rights to same-sex couples; while Iceland, Spain and Cyprus banned so-called conversion therapy.

The Icelandic Parliament in Reykjavik, Iceland. The country has banned so-called conversion therapy for minors. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Edgars Rinkēvičs in June became Latvia’s first openly gay president. Spanish lawmakers in February approved a landmark Transgender rights law that allows anyone who is over 16-years-old to legally change their gender without medical intervention.

“Despite these gains, LGBTQI+ persons worldwide continue to experience alarming levels of violence, discrimination and isolation,” said Lee. “We are seeing increasingly coordinated efforts to undermine progress on human rights of LGBTQI+ persons worldwide, while seemingly targeted at a small slice of the population.” 

Lee in her remarks specifically referenced the U.S. as one of the countries in which “we are seeing hateful shameful attacks on and against the LGBTQI+ persons, especially against LGBTQI children.” 

Openly gay Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, Chilean Foreign Minister Alberto Van Klaveren, Norwegian Foreign Affairs Minister Anniken Huitfeldt, Danish Development Cooperation and Global Climate Policy Minister Dan Jørgensen, Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Hadja Lahbib, French Europe and Foreign Affairs Minister Catherine Colonna, Colombian Multilateral Affairs Vice Minister Elizabeth Taylor Jay, Brazilian Multilaterial Political Affairs Vice Minister Carlos Marcio Bicalho Cozendey and South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation Director General Zane Dangor are among those who also spoke at the event that Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the outgoing independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ+ and intersex issues, chaired.

Brazil’s Planalto (Presidential) Palace illuminated in rainbow colors in honor of Pride month. (Photo courtesy of Brazilian Congresswoman Erika Hilton/Twitter)

Human Rights Watch Executive Director Tirana Hassan and Chitsanupong Best Nithiwana, a transgender rights activist from Thailand, also participated. Openly gay Luxembourgish Prime Minister Xavier Bettel spoke virtually. 

“My country, Ireland, has come a long way in recent years, particularly when we think about its LGBTI+ inclusion,” said Varadkar.

Varadkar said he was in high school when Ireland decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in 1993.

Ireland in 2015 became the first country to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples through a popular vote. Ireland’s Gender Recognition Act took effect the same year. Varadkar noted his government is currently working to expunge convictions under the country’s sodomy law and plans to ban conversion therapy in the country. 

“These are major legislative changes, but I think the real effect runs much deeper,” he said. “Our culture and our society has changed and there’s a better understanding of family and inclusion. The Ireland of today is a more understanding or accepting more inclusive and more equal country than it was in the past and more willing to respect fluidity, diversity and personal freedom.”

Varadkar, like Lee and others who spoke at the LGBTI Core Group event, expressed concern “about the alarming pushback against LGBT rights in some parts of the world, particularly criminalization, and the rise of violence, hatred towards members of our community at home and abroad.”

“We see in some countries, the reintroduction of draconian laws, including threat of the death penalty, openness, discrimination, as an increasing backlash against very vulnerable transgender people, and heightened political polarization, including here in the U.N,” he said. “I deeply regret the escalating attempts made by some states to undermine existing international commitments and standards.”

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