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

LGBTQ+ news stories from around the globe including Jordan, France, Scotland, Britain & Poland

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JORDAN

King Abdullah (Photo Credit: Embassy of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Washington D.C.)

BEIRUT, Lebanon – The government of Jordanian King Abdullah have systematically targeted lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights activists and coordinated an unlawful crackdown on free expression and assembly around gender and sexuality, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released earlier this month.

In its December 4 report, HRW documented cases in which the Kingdom of Jordan’s General Intelligence Department (GID) and the Preventive Security department of the Public Security Directorate interrogated LGBT activists about their work, and intimidated them with threats of violence, arrest, and prosecution, forcing several activists to shut down their organizations, discontinue their activities, and in some cases, flee the country.

Government officials also smeared LGBT rights activists online based on their sexual orientation, and social media users posted photos of LGBT rights activists with messages inciting violence against them.

“Jordanian authorities have launched a coordinated attack against LGBT rights activists, aimed at eradicating any discussion around gender and sexuality from the public and private spheres,” said Rasha Younes, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Security forces’ intimidation tactics and unlawful interference in LGBT organizing have driven activism further underground and forced civil society leaders into an impossible reality: severe self-censorship or fleeing Jordan.”

Three activists said the Amman governor interrogated them after they preemptively cancelled the screening of a film depicting gay men. Two LGBT organization directors said that because of official intimidation, they were forced to close their offices, discontinue their operations in Jordan, and flee the country.

One activist said Preventive Security officers made him sign a pledge that he would report all his venue’s activities to the governor. Another activist reported being targeted online while social media users called for him to be burned alive.

One of the few LGBT rights activists who has remained in Jordan described her current reality: “Merely existing in Amman has become terrifying. We cannot continue our work as activists, and we are forced to be hyperaware of our surroundings as individuals.”

More recently, in October 2023, an LGBT rights activist said he was summoned for investigation by the intelligence agency. During the interrogation, the activist said intelligence officers searched his phone, intimidated him, and threatened him with a travel ban, while asking personal questions about his sexual orientation and sexual relations with other men. After three hours of questioning, the activist said the officers told him he could leave.

“They [Jordanian authorities] invest in intimidation to destroy our minds and isolate us,” the activist said. “Their tactic is to target us mentally, leaving no evidence of our torment behind.”

Jordan’s constitution protects the rights to nondiscrimination (article 6), the right to personal freedom (article 7), and the right to freedom of expression and opinion (article 15).

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Jordan is a state party, provides that everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression, assembly, and association. The ICCPR, in its articles 2 and 26, guarantees fundamental human rights and equal protection of the law without discrimination.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which interprets the covenant, has made clear that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited in upholding any of the rights protected by the treaty, including freedom of expression, assembly, and association.

FRANCE

Openly gay French Senator Hussein Bourgi speaking at a ceremony in the city of Clermont-l’Hérault in the Hérault district he represents. (Photo Credit: Hussein Bourgi/Facebook)

PARIS, France – Legislation that was introduced last month by the openly gay Socialist Senator Hussein Bourgi to acknowledge the French state’s responsibility in the criminalization and persecution of homosexuals between 1945 and 1982 was adopted.

However, the section of bill that called for compensation of the victims of French homophobic laws, in effect during that period by offering them a lump sum of €10,000 Euros [10,752.75 USD], was not approved.

Speaking with various French media outlets, Bourgi, who authored the bill, said: “It is high time to bring justice to the living victims of legislation which served as the basis for a politics of repression with brutal and punishing social, professional and familial consequences.”

Agence France-Presse reported:

Bourgi’s text focuses on a 40-year period following the introduction of legislation that specifically targeted homosexuals under the Nazi-allied Vichy regime. The 1942 law, which was not repealed after the liberation of France, introduced a discriminatory distinction in the age of consent for heterosexual and homosexual sex, setting the former at 13 (raised to 15 at the Liberation) and the latter at 21.

Some 10,000 people – almost exclusively men, most of them working-class – were convicted under the law until its repeal in 1982, according to research by sociologists Régis Schlagdenhauffen and Jérémie Gauthier. More than 90% were sentenced to jail. An estimated 50,000 more were convicted under a separate “public indecency” law that was amended in 1960 to introduce an aggravating factor for homosexuals and double the penalty. 

“People tend to think France was protective of gay people compared to, say, Germany or the UK. But when you look at the figures you get a very different picture,” said Schlagdenhaufen, who teaches at the EHESS institute in Paris. 

“France was not this cradle of human rights we like to think of,” he added. “The Revolution tried to decriminalise homosexuality, but subsequent regimes found other stratagems to repress gay people. This repression was enshrined in law in 1942 and even more so in 1960.” 

The legislation won the backing of Éric Dupond-Moretti, Minister of Justice for the government of President Emmanuel Macron. However, Dupond-Moretti agreed with the removal of the compensation provision by the right-wing and center senatorial majority. Dupond-Moretti justified this choice noting concerns over “legal difficulties,” telling French magazine Le Monde that “putting into practice” of this compensation measure “appears extremely complex” due to the difficulty of providing proof of an old conviction and its execution.

The Justice Minister added “It was not the law which was responsible for this harm” but “French society, homophobic in all its components at the time” adding, “This is not the fault of the Republic. The law of memory is enough.”

The bill must now be taken up by the lower house, the National Assembly, to be passed and then adopted.

SCOTLAND

The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo Credit: The Scottish Government)

EDINBURGH, UK – The Court of Session in Edinburgh has ruled that the UK government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak acted within the law by invoking Section 35, which blocked the measure passed by the Scottish Parliament, that would have make it easier for transgender people to change their legally-recognized sex on documents.

The actions by Scottish Secretary Alister Jack, with Prime Minister Sunak’s backing kept the act from receiving the signature of King Charles III and becoming law.

The Gender Recognition Reform bill was introduced by the Scottish government to Holyrood (parliament) in the Spring of 2022 was passed in a final 86-39 vote days before Christmas of 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.

In a statement released in January of this year, Jack said:

“After thorough and careful consideration of all the relevant advice and the policy implications, I am concerned that this legislation would have an adverse impact on the operation of Great Britain-wide equalities legislation. 

“Transgender people who are going through the process to change their legal sex deserve our respect, support and understanding. My decision today is about the legislation’s consequences for the operation of GB-wide equalities protections and other reserved matters. 

“I have not taken this decision lightly. The Bill would have a significant impact on, amongst other things, GB-wide equalities matters in Scotland, England and Wales. I have concluded, therefore, that this is the necessary and correct course of action.”

The Scottish government sued Westminster in the Court of Session, Scotland’s highest civil court, arguing that Jack did not have “reasonable grounds” to block the bill. The BBC reported that in her ruling for the UK governments, Judge Lady Haldane dismissed the Scottish government’s appeal and said the block on the legislation was lawful.

Judge Haldance noted that Jack followed correct legal procedures when he made his decision to invoke section 35 and that the Scottish government had failed to show that he had made legal errors.

The judge wrote: “I cannot conclude that he (Mr Jack) failed in his duty to take such steps as were reasonable in all the circumstances to acquaint himself with material sufficient to permit him to reach the decision that he did.”

Lady Haldane also said that “Section 35 does not, in and of itself, impact on the separation of powers or other fundamental constitutional principle. Rather it is itself part of the constitutional framework.”

Stonewall UK, the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ advocacy group expressed its disappointment with Judge Haldane’s ruling in a statement released this past week:

“We’re disappointed that the Court of Session in Scotland has found in favour of the UK Government’s unprecedented decision to use Section 35 to block the Gender Recognition Reform Bill from Royal Assent. This Bill was one of the most debated in the Scottish Parliament’s history and was passed by a resounding majority of MSPs drawn from all major Scottish parties.

This unfortunately means more uncertainty for trans people in Scotland, who will now be waiting once again, to see whether they will be able to have their gender legally recognised through a process that is in line with leading nations like Ireland, Canada and New Zealand.

Whatever happens next in discussions with the UK and Scottish Governments on this matter, Stonewall will continue to press all administrations to make progress on LGBTQ+ rights in line with leading international practice.”

BRITAIN

Labor MP Sir Chris Bryant speaking in Commons. (Screenshot/YouTube UK Government)

WESTMINSTER, UK – Anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric used by British Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch during her speech on the floor of the House of Commons on Dec. 6, prompted Labour MP Sir Chris Bryant, an openly gay lawmaker, to rise in opposition and declare her speech left him feeling unsafe. 

The debate was triggered by the Equalities Minister claiming that the UK does not recognize self-ID from overseas countries for trans people, PinkNewsUK reported. In his retort to her statements, Bryant explained: “I feel, as a gay man, less safe than I did three years or five years ago.”

PinkNewsUK also noted that Bryant said: “Why? Sometimes because of the rhetoric that is used, including by herself [Badenoch] in the public debate.” He added that some MPs had cheered for Badenoch’s statements on the trans community, and for statements against gender-affirming care for trans people, which could lead to LGBTQ+ people feeling even less safe in the UK. 

“Many of us feel less safe today, and when people over there cheer as they just did, it chills me to the bone, it genuinely does,” Bryant said. 

She hit back with force, challenging him to identify which words precisely were so problematic. She later criticized the attempts of trans activists to use emotional blackmail to try to shut down debate.

The UK Government has updated the list of countries from which gender-certificates will be accepted.

Replying to Bryant, Badenoch said: “He says that my rhetoric chills him to the bone. I would be really keen to hear exactly what it is I have said in this statement or previously that is so chilling.” She added that the current Tory government had done work on “our HIV action plan” and “around trans healthcare”, as well as “establishing five new community-based clinics for adults in the country.”

“There is a lot that we are doing, so it is wrong to characterise us as not caring about LGBT people,” she said. 

Bryant’s colleague, Sir Ben Bradshaw, also failed to get the better of Badenoch. He complained the UK had recently fallen in a set of international rankings on LGBTQ rights. She calmly pointed out that those rankings reward states that adopt the Stonewall-supported policy of self-ID and punish those who do not. To cheers from the Tory benches, she declared ‘Stonewall does not decide the law in this country,’ referring to Stonewall UK, the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ advocacy group.

POLAND

 Donald Tusk signing Parliamentary documents. (Photo Credit: Polish Government)

WARSAW, Poland – In a turn of events Monday, the Sejm, lower house of the national legislature of Poland, elected Donald Tusk as the new prime minister after Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki failed to win a vote of confidence by lawmakers in his government.

248 MPs voted for the election of Tusk as prime minister, 201 were against and no one abstained in the 460-seat lower house of parliament.

“This is a truly wonderful day, not only for me, but for all those who have deeply believed for many years that things will get even better, that we will chase away the darkness, that we will chase away evil,” the 66-year-old new prime minister told the Sejm after his election.

There had been considerable turmoil in the Polish government, particularly in the Sejm, as many accused the ruling conservative right-wing PiS (Law and Justice Party) of Jarosław Kaczyński, who until last month held the post of Deputy Prime Minister, of leading the country backwards into an authoritarian state.

The PiS lost their parliamentary majority in the critical elections this past October after a larger proportion of the country’s 18-29 year-olds had turned out to vote than over-60s and election officials said that turnout was probably 72.9%, the highest since the fall of communism in 1989.

Voter anger had steadily risen over erosion of women’s reproductive rights eroded and Polish LGBTQ+ people who had faced a government hate campaign that drove some to leave the country and caused the European Commission to threatened to pull economic aid and as the BBC reported, the EU is still withholding more than €30bn ($32bn) in Covid recovery funds because of its concerns about the politicization of Poland’s courts.

The Polish government has repeatedly clashed with the European Union over the rule of law, media freedom, migration and LGBTQ rights since Law and Justice (PiS) came to power in 2015.

Tusk, who had served as European Council president from 2014-2019 is expected to improve Warsaw’s standing with the EU. Additionally he previously served as Poland’s prime minister from 2007-2014.

“At the invitation of President Andrzej Duda, after the vote in the Sejm, a meeting was held with Prime Minister Donald Tusk. It was agreed that after obtaining a vote of confidence, the swearing-in of the new government would take place on Wednesday, December 13, at 9 a.m. at the Presidential Palace,” a spokesperson for President Duda said in a statement released late Monday.

Additional reporting from Human Rights Watch, Agence France-Presse, Le Monde, The BBC, TVN24 Polaska and PinkNewsUK.

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Africa

Uganda tightens grip on LGBTQ rights groups

Yoweri Museveni on July 16 dissolved country’s National Bureau of NGOs

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LGBTQ activists protest in front of the Ugandan Embassy in D.C. on April 25, 2023. Yoweri Museveni, the country's president, has signed a bill that tightens the grip on LGBTQ groups and other NGOs in the country. (Washington Blade photos by Michael K. Lavers)

The licensing, operation, and funding of LGBTQ organizations and other human rights groups in Uganda will now be under the government’s strict supervision.

President Yoweri Museveni on July 16 signed the Non-Governmental Organizations (Amendment) Act, 2024, that dissolves Uganda’s National Bureau of NGOs, which regulated the groups. The new law places its work under the Internal Affairs Ministry’s authority.

Museveni assented to bill after parliament passed it in April. MPs accused the NGOs Bureau of impeding the monitoring of NGOs activities, such as the promotion of homosexuality, that violate Ugandan law.

“I want you people (MPs) to be very careful when you are talking about NGOs,” Speaker Anita Among said during the parliamentary debate. “This is where money is being laundered into the country; this is how homosexuality money is coming into the country.”

The MPs noted that allowing the taxpayer-funded NGOs Bureau to operate independently without the State’s close supervision was putting Uganda at risk of losing its national objective of protecting its citizens from what they described as unwanted foreign practices through “funny money” given to LGBTQ rights organizations.

“I am aware of some NGOs that have been operating and doing things that are contrary to our own values and cultures, but I believe police and other agencies have been dealing with those other NGOs,” MP Sarah Opendi, who is a vocal LGBTQ rights opponent, said.

The MPs also backed the move for the NGOs Bureau to be under the Security Ministry’s oversight as “critical” by accusing it of bureaucracy in getting licenses and information. The NGOs regulator, however, does not allow the licensing of LGBTQ lobby groups for promoting homosexuality.

The NGOs Bureau in August 2022 halted the operations of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a group that fights discrimination against LGBTQ people in the country, because it was not registered by it or the Uganda Registration Services Bureau as Ugandan law requires. This decision came despite SMUG’s attempt in 2012 to reserve the name with the Uganda Registration Services Bureau for incorporation but the name was rejected for being “undesirable.”

The NGOs Bureau in stopping SMUG’s operations also noted the group did not have a physical office or location, and its representatives were reluctant to disclose it, despite partnering with the Health Ministry, the Uganda Human Rights Commission, and the Uganda police.

The NGOs Bureau, however, established government institutions that partnered with SMUG were unaware that it operated illegally.   

The NGOs Bureau’s move to halt SMUG’s operations “with immediate effect” prompted the group to challenge the decision in a lower court and then the Court of Appeal. SMUG lost both cases.    

SMUG Executive Director Frank Mugisha on Thursday, two days after Museveni signed the NGOs law, petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the Court of Appeal’s ruling against SMUG.

“Today, we filed a case at the Supreme Court of Uganda to challenge the decision by the Court of Appeal rejecting the registration of Sexual Minorities Uganda,” Mugisha stated.    

Mugisha, together with two other LGBTQ activists, Dennis Wamala and Ssenfuka Joanita Wary, argue the Court of Appeal judges’ application of the principle of public morality in interpreting constitutional and human rights law in its March 12 ruling was erroneous.

“The learned justices of the Court of Appeal erred in law when they held that the proposed objectives of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) are criminal and prohibited under Section 145 of the Penal Code Act,” reads the Supreme Court petition.

The three appellants also argue the Court of Appeal judges incorrectly maintained SMUG’s name was “undesirable” and the NGOs Bureau was within its mandates to disallow the registration in the “public interest” under the Companies Act. They also argue the Court of Appeal judges erred when they dismissed their appeal and want the Supreme Court to grant them to fully consider their petition.

 “It is proposed to ask the Supreme Court for orders that the decision and orders of the Court of Appeal be set aside and substituted with orders of this honorable court,” reads the petition.  

Activists consider the NGOs Bureau and the Uganda Registration Services Bureau’s decision to reject SMUG’s registration a violation of the right to freedom of expression and association. 

The appeal of the Court of Appeal’s ruling to the Supreme Court comes on the heels of the appeal of the Constitutional Court’s ruling that upheld the Anti-Homosexuality Act that Museveni signed in May 2023. Mugisha is among the 22 activists who petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the Constitutional Court’s ruling on July 11.

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South America

Report finds more Argentina businesses adopting LGBTQ-inclusive policies

Activists condemn new government’s rolling back of rights

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More than 1 million people took part in the Buenos Aires Pride parade in Argentina on Nov. 4, 2023. A new report finds more businesses in the country have implemented policies for their LGBTQ employees. (Photo courtesy of Esteban Paulón)

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation and LGBT+ Public Policy Institute of Argentina last week released their third annual report on the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the country’s workplaces.

The Global Workplace Equity Program: Equidad AR evaluates major Argentine and multinational companies and policies for their LGBTQ employees.

The total number of participating companies in this year’s survey increased from 76 to 82, which reflects a growing commitment to creating LGBTQ-inclusive policies and practices in Argentine workplaces. The report also notes 224,649 queer employees, which is a 120 percent increase over last year.

The HRC Foundation’s AR Equity Program is based on the HRC Corporate Equity Index, the leading survey that assesses LGBTQ workplace in the U.S. Companies that lead the way in LGBTQ inclusion and equity earn the HRC Foundation’s “Best Places to Work LGBT+ 2024” designation.

Fifty-five of the 82 participating companies in Argentina earned this certification this year. They represent 26 different business sectors.

“As we’ve seen countless times, when organizations implement LGBT+ policies, everyone wins: Workers are better able to reach their full potential and employers reaffirm their commitment to treating all people with dignity and respect,” said RaShawn Hawkins, senior director of the HRC Foundation’s Workplace Equality Program. “We are very proud of our partners for the work they have done to advance LGBT+ equality in their workplaces and look forward to continuing to work with them as partners in this fight.”

The commitment to LGBTQ-inclusive policies and practicies is significant in a different way for the community in Argentina this year.

HRC indicated “recent public administrative changes focused on the LGBT+ community motivated the private sector to generate more opportunities to grow and develop its diverse workforce through business.”

President Javier Milei and his government have faced criticism over the closure of the National Institute against Discrimination and the Ministry of Women, Gender, and Diversity. 

“The complex context that Argentina is experiencing of difficulties, hostility, and refusal of the national government to sustain many of the public policies that were carried out in recent years, puts the private sector at the center, which clearly has all the conditions to make an important contribution and become a decisive factor to support from another place different from the one we have been used to because the State has run away,” gay Congressman Esteban Paulón told the Washington Blade.

The congressman added “the private sector, and from the cooperation between the public sector and the private sector, can work and sustain many of the achievements that have been achieved in these years.” Paulón said they include implementation of a labor quota for transgender people that Milei’s government is no longer implementing, but “could be sustained” with a “firm commitment” from the private sector.

Onax Cirlini, HRC’s AR Equity implementing partner, said that “beyond the institutional efforts highlighted in this report, we see the dynamics generated by activism organized by employee resource groups (ERGs)/business resource groups (BRGs) or affinity groups.” 

“This internal momentum, often led by people in the community itself, enhances institutional equality efforts by providing continuity and persistence,” said Cirlini.

Dolores Covacevich, another HRC AR Equity implementing partner, stressed the group recognizes “the importance of every role within companies and organizations as they work toward the integration of diversity, equity and inclusion policies, and the commitment to LGBT+ inclusion efforts.”

“We know that none of this work would be possible without inclusive leadership that promotes these processes,” said Covacevich.

HRC has worked with groups in Mexico, Chile, and Brazil to implement similar indexes in their respective countries.

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India

Schools in India’s Kerala state adopt gender-neutral curricula

Initiative encourages administrators to change uniform policies

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A page from the Kerala state government’s new textbooks that introduces non-traditional gender roles to students. (Photo courtesy of Kerala State General Education Minister V. Sivankutty’s Facebook page)

When schools in India’s Kerala state reopened on June 3 after a long summer break, students walked into classrooms with the usual excitement. This year, however, they were greeted with a surprising and groundbreaking change. The textbooks they received were unlike any they had seen before — filled with gender-neutral images and instructions.

The initiative, driven by the state’s commitment to fostering equality from a young age, aimed to break down traditional gender roles and promote inclusivity. Students found pictures of boys and girls engaging in various activities without gender-specific expectations.

One of the images showed the father grating coconut in the kitchen while his wife cooked food. Another picture showed the father cooking food for his daughter.

In an unprecedented move, some schools in Kerala have committed to gender neutrality beyond textbooks, introducing gender-neutral uniforms. This change marks a significant departure from the traditional Indian school uniform, where boys typically wear shirts and pants, and girls don skirts, often in different colors. Many schools in Kerala have introduced the same school uniform for all students including shirts and knee-length pants.

More than 12 schools in Kerala have shifted to gender-neutral dresses so far. While there are a total of 4,504 government-run schools in Kerala, the Kerala Child Rights Commission last year decided to remove the use of words like “sir” and “madam” for teachers and instead encouraged to use of universal terms like “teacher” on school premises, but the Department of General Education, a state government body that overseas education in schools, refrained from any changes.

The National Council of Education Research and Training, a government-autonomous body of India’s Education Ministry, in 2023 introduced a manual that directs schools to implement transgender-inclusive curricula, safe washrooms, and gender-neutral dress for students to prevent gender-based discrimination and violence.

The Mumbai-based Aditya Birla World Academy, a private international school, in 2022 adopted gender-neutral uniforms and language in its 138 branches across the country. The school replaced “ladies” and “gentlemen” and other gender-specific words with “dear guests” or “hello everyone.” The school sent an email to parents that told them how to reduce gender differentiation in uniforms so students of various genders and those who are gender non-conforming or questioning their gender can feel safe discovering and expressing themselves at the school.

The Aditya Birla World Academy has also established the Rainbow Club, an LGBTQ support group led by students and guided by teachers, to create an environment of activism in the classroom, shifted to allow students to choose the length of their hair as long as it is neatly tied up, along with other activities that include workshops with teachers and parents under the initiative of “move away from the cis heteronormative environment in the education world.”

While talking to the Washington Blade, Harish Iyer, an equal rights activist, said children should be allowed to dress the way they want. He also said the idea of uniforms in schools is that a student should feel included, regardless of what strata of society to which they belong.

“Adding gender-neutrality to uniforms would only extend the whole purpose of the uniforms,” said Iyer. “It should be appreciated by all as there is no question of any debate here. What should be debated is that some people are forced to wear what is not part of their gender identity.”

Iyer told the Blade there should not be any gender assigned to clothes. He said uniforms should be based on comfort and not based on gender.

Indrani Chakraborty, a mother of a trans child and an LGBTQ activist based in northeast India, told the Blade the Kerala government’s decision to implement gender-neutral uniforms is welcome. She said her organization, Annajoree, is also trying to sensitize people on the same issue in Assam state.

“We are promoting safe-spaces in schools in Assam so that kids can complete their basic education without any mental harassment at school,” said Chakraborty. “Kerala is doing great work, it’s a great initiative and everyone should come forward to support it. It should be everywhere in our country.”

Indrani Chakraborty (Photo courtesy of Indrani Chakraborty)

She also told the Blade that schools not sensitized to LGBTQ issues creates a fear of bullying. Students, according to Chakraborty, in particular face bullying and they are not allowed to join classes in their preferred uniforms and do not have access to gender-neutral bathrooms. 

She has started an initiative called the “No More Holding Pee Initiative” in schools.

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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World

Out in the World: LGBTQ news from Europe and Asia

The Polish government has moved forward with a civil unions bill

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(Los Angeles Blade graphic)

UNITED KINGDOM

The UK’s new Labour government is defending the previous Conservative government’s ban on the use of puberty blockers for transgender children and moving to make the ban permanent, the new health minister announced this weekend.

Wes Streeting, who was appointed Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on July 5, one day after Labour’s landslide election victory, posted a thread on X over the weekend defending the new government’s policy.

Streeting said the Cass Review — the previous government’s official review of gender care, which has been derided by trans activists as misleading and one-sided — found there was a lack of evidence that puberty blockers were safe and effective for use in gender questioning youth.

“We don’t yet know the risks of stopping pubertal hormones at this critical life stage. That is the basis upon which I am making decisions. I am treading cautiously in this area because the safety of children must come first,” Streeting wrote.

The Labour government is continuing to defend the previous government’s emergency ban on puberty blockers in court. This week, the court was told by counsel for trans groups challenging the ban that the policy stems only from the previous minister’s personal views about trans people, rather than medical expertise.

“The evidence shows that the impetus and only disclosed rationale for the making of the order was the personal view of [former Health Secretary Victoria Atkins] that the Cass report required immediate action,” Jason Coppel said.

“Officials were then tasked with working up arguments in favor of a banning order to fit that personal view. No clinical or other scientific advice was taken on whether the statutory criteria were, or were capable of being, satisfied. This was a wholly insufficient basis for invocation of the emergency process.”

While Streeting has previously supported trans rights, more recently he’s walked back that support, saying he no longer stands by the belief that “trans women are women.”

POLAND

The Polish Sejm in Warsaw (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Poland’s government has finally agreed to a draft civil union bill, long after Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s initial promise to pass the bill within 100 days of taking office.

The government plans to debate the bill during the fall session of parliament, beginning in September, and have it passed by the end of the year, but recent cracks in the governing coalition have put some doubt on that timetable.

Since December, Poland has been governed by a rocky coalition of left and center-right parties who united to oppose and increasingly anti-democratic right-wing party that had governed Poland since 2014. But the coalition partners don’t see eye-to-eye on a number of social issues, including LGBTQ and reproductive rights.

The center-right Polish People’s Party had threatened not to support the civil union bill if the bill provided unions that were too similar to marriage, which would effectively kill its chances of passing. As a compromise, the center and left-leaning coalition partners agreed to amendments that would block same-sex couples from being able to adopt their partner’s children.

But a similar compromise on a landmark abortion bill failed in parliament last week.

Poland is one of only two European Union countries in which abortion is not legal – the other is Malta. Tusk had promised to decriminalize abortion up to 12 weeks, a position broadly agreed to by the left and center wings of his coalition government. But the Polish People’s Party voted against the bill, and it failed by three votes, killing it in parliament.

The Left Party in the coalition has vowed to reintroduce the bill over and over until it is passed.

An additional hurdle to both the abortion and civil union bills is President Andrzej Duda from the far-right Law and Justice Party, who has vowed to veto any abortion bill and has not committed to signing the civil union bill.

The next presidential election is in May 2024. Duda is termed out.

JAPAN

A court in Japan has allowed a trans woman to change her legal gender without undergoing gender-affirming surgery for the first time last week.

The ruling by the Hiroshima High Court handed down on July 10 overturns a lower court decision that had denied her the gender change because she hadn’t undergone surgery.

Under Japanese law, in order to legally change gender, a trans person must have a diagnosis of “gender identity disorder” and must have had surgery. The law also used to require that the person seeking a gender change has no ability to reproduce, forcing them to be sterilized, but that provision was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Japan last October.

The claimant, a trans woman in her late 40s argued to the court that the surgical requirement would be an unfair financial and physical burden.

One of her lawyers has said that when she was told of the ruling, she cried in relief, the Associated Press reports.

The ruling still requires trans people who want to change their legal gender to have received a “gender identity disorder” diagnosis and to have undergone hormone therapy.

LGBTQ rights have become a growing political issue in Japan. Last year, the national parliament failed to pass a nondiscrimination bill, instead passing a bill it hoped would “promote understanding” of the LGBTQ community. A majority of Japan’s prefectures have instituted recognition and registration of same-sex couples, while a series of court cases have been pressing for full equal marriage rights nationwide.

PHILIPPINES

Mandaue City on the island of Cebu is the latest city in the Philippines to pass a comprehensive anti-discrimination ordinance to protect is LGBTQ community, with the publication of implementing rules and regulations July 10.

The regulations prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in health care, education, and public accommodations, and from impediments to free association and organization.

Mandaue Mayor Jonas Cortes says the aim of the ordinance is to make everyone feel welcome.

“The [regulations] provide the detailed guidelines on how we will implement and enforce this ordinance, ensuring that our commitment to equality is not just words but real actionable steps,” Cortes said.

More than 30 cities across the island nation have passed anti-discrimination ordinances to protect the LGBTQ community, but a bill to ban SOGIE (sexual orientation and gender identity and expression) discrimination nationwide has been stuck in the Philippine Congress for more than 20 years, having been first introduced in 2001.

A lawmaker has also attempted to get a bill to recognize same-sex civil unions passed, but it has stalled in committees.

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Africa

Burkina Faso moves to criminalize homosexuality

Justice Minister Edasso Bayala made announcement on July 10

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Burkina Faso flag (Photo by rarrarorro/Bigstock)

Burkina Faso has become the latest African country to move to criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

Justice Minister Edasso Bayala on July 10 after a Cabinet meeting said same-sex sexual acts and similar practices would now be prohibited and seen as a violation of the law.

Unlike other countries where lawmakers have to introduce and pass bills, this scenario will likely not be the case in Burkina Faso because the country is currently under military role. Captain Ibrahim Traorè in 2022 led a coup that removed President Roch Kaboré and Prime Minister Lassina Zerbo.

Although some have signaled there still needs to be a parliamentary vote, there will be “legal” ramifications for those who are found to be LGBTQ or advocating for the community.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations or identifying as LGBTQ were regarded as legal in Burkina Faso before the July 10 announcement. Same-sex marriages were — and remain — illegal.

Members of the Transitional Legislative Assembly last September met to discuss regional issues that included the prohibition of and penalization of homosexuality and restricting the creation of groups that advocate on behalf of sexual minorities. The TLA incorporated the suggestions into a report and submitted it to Burkina Faso’s leadership.

Some of the country’s LGBTQ groups and human rights organizations have called upon the current leadership to respect and acknowledge other genders.

“We are all equal in dignity and rights,” said the National Consultive Commission on Human Rights, which is known by acronym CNDH (Commission Nationale des Droits Humains in French), in a statement. “CNDH is fighting against all forms of discrimination based on race gender, religion or social origin.”

“In Burkina Faso, thousands of people suffer from prejudice and injustice every day,” added CNDH. “We must take action. Discrimination weakens our society and divides our communities. Every individual deserves to live without fear of being judged or excluded.”

The organization further stressed “every action counts. Every voice matters.”

“Together we can change mindsets,” it said. “We must educate, raise awareness and encourage respect for diversity.”

CNDH President Gonta Alida Henriette said the government’s decision “would be the greatest violation of human rights in Burkina Faso and would condemn hundreds of thousands of LGBT+ people in Burkina Faso.” Alice Nkom, an African human rights activist, echoed this sentiment.

“Why politicize a privacy matter among consenting adults while making it a crucial topic for Africa? I answer you: Stop spying on your neighbor for the wrong reasons,” said Nkom. “Mind your own life and, if you care about your neighbor, worry about their health, if water is coming out of the tap, if there is electricity in the house, or food to feed their children.”

“Why are they prioritizing the issue of saying no to homosexuality in Africa instead of no wars or armed conflict in Africa, no poverty in Africa, no hunger in Africa, no misery in Africa?,” asked Nkom. “We should stop being distracted by topics that take away nothing and add nothing to our lives.”

Other activists say the proposal would expose the LGBTQ community and its allies to imprisonment and other punishments. They say the repercussions would go beyond legal implications; making human rights and sexual minority activists more vulnerable to criminal action, persecution, and arbitrary arrests. 

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Africa

Cameroon president’s daughter comes out

Brenda Biya acknowledges relationship with Brazilian model

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Brenda Biya (Photo via Instagram)

The daughter of Cameroonian President Paul Biya has come out as a lesbian.

Brenda Biya, 26, on June 30 posted to her Instagram page a picture of her kissing Brazilian model Layyons Valença.

“I’m crazy about you and I want the world to know,” said Brenda Biya.

Her father has been Cameroon’s president since 1982.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in the Central African country that borders Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, the Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and Chad. The State Department’s 2023 human rights report notes harassment, discrimination, violence, and arbitrary arrests of LGBTQ people are commonplace in the country.

Brenda Biya is a musician who does not live in Cameroon.

The BBC reported she told Le Parisien, a French newspaper, in an exclusive interview published on Tuesday that she and Valença have been together for eight months. The women have also traveled to Cameroon together three times, but Brenda Biya did not tell her family they were in a relationship.

Brenda Biya said she did not tell her family that she planned to come out, and they were upset when she did. Brenda Biya told Le Parisien that her mother, Cameroonian first lady Chantale Biya, asked her to delete her Instagram post.

The Washington Blade on Thursday did not see the picture of Brenda Biya and Valença on her Instagram account.

“Coming out is an opportunity to send a strong message,” Brenda Biya told Le Parisien.

Brenda Biya described Cameroon’s criminalization law as “unfair, and I hope that my story will change it.”

Activists applauded Brenda Biya for coming out. The BBC reported the DDHP Movement, which supports Cameroon’s anti-LGBTQ laws, filed a complaint against her with the country’s public prosecutor.

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Caribbean

Dutch Supreme Court rules Aruba, Curaçao must allow same-sex couples to marry

Ruling likely also applicable to St. Maarten

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Curaçao is one of the constituent countries in the Caribbean that are part of the Netherlands. The Dutch Supreme Court on July 12, 2024, ruled Curaçao and Aruba must extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. The ruling will also apply to St. Maarten. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Dutch Supreme Court on Friday ruled Aruba and Curaçao must extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The Joint Court of Justice of Aruba, Curaçao, St. Maarten and of Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba in 2022 ruled in favor of marriage equality in two cases that Fundacion Orguyo Aruba and Human Rights Caribbean in Curaçao filed.

The governments of the two islands appealed the ruling.

The Joint Court of Justice of Aruba, Curaçao, St. Maarten and of Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba has jurisdiction over Aruba, Curaçao, and St. Maarten —three constituent countries within the Netherlands — and Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba — which are special municipalities within the kingdom. 

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry and adopt children in Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba since 2012.

Aruba, Curaçao, and St. Maarten must recognize same-sex marriages from the Netherlands, Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba. Aruba’s registered partnership law took effect in 2021.

“Today, we celebrate a historic victory for the dignity and rights of LGBT individuals in Curaçao and Aruba,” said Human Rights Caribbean President Janice Tjon Sien Kie on Friday in a statement.

Aruban Sen. Miguel Mansur, who is gay, on Friday described the ruling to the Washington Blade as “an amazing victory which applies to Aruba, Curaçao, and by implication St. Maarten.”

“Aruba progresses into a society with less discrimination, more tolerance, and acceptance,” he said.

Melissa Gumbs, a lesbian St. Maarten MP, told the Blade the ruling “could very well have some bearing on our situation here.” 

“I’m definitely looking into it,” she said. “We’re researching it to see what is the possibility, and also in touch with our friends in Aruba who are, of course, overjoyed with this ruling.”

Cuba, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Martin, St. Barts, Martinique, and Guadeloupe, are the other jurisdictions in the Caribbean in which same-sex couples can legally marry. 

Mansur said the first same-sex marriages in Aruba will happen “very soon.”

“There are two couples ready to wed,” he told the Blade.

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Caribbean

Black transgender woman from Chicago disappears in the Bahamas

Taylor Casey last seen on June 19 on Paradise Island

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Taylor Casey (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

A Black transgender woman from Chicago disappeared last month while attending a yoga retreat in the Bahamas.

flyer the Royal Bahamas Police Force has distributed says Taylor Casey, 42, was last seen on June 19 on Paradise Island, which is adjacent to Nassau, the country’s capital.

Casey’s family in a press release said employees at the Sivanandra Ashram Yoga Retreat she was attending reported her missing on June 20 “when she failed to attend that day’s classes.” 

Casey’s mother, Colette Seymore, traveled to Paradise Island after her daughter disappeared.

The press release, which advocates in Chicago released ahead of a press conference on Thursday, notes “a search of the area and conversations with the Bahamian authorities left Ms. Colette Seymore with more questions than answers.”

Thursday is Casey’s 42nd birthday.

Seymore is among those who spoke at Thursday’s press conference.

“My child has been missing for almost three weeks,” said Seymore in the press release. “My family, friends, and I are distraught! I am pleading with everyone to call your elected officials and demand the FBI lead this investigation and bring her home safe and sound.”

The Windy City Times described Casey as “a fixture of Chicago’s transgender community and a beloved youth advocate.” Casey has also practiced yoga for 15 years, and went to the retreat “as part of a long-term goal to deepen her yoga practice.”

“She was excited to be participating in the yoga teacher training program and looking forward to sharing her experience with others when she returned,” noted a second press advisory her family released this week.

The Nassau Guardian, a Bahamian newspaper, on June 27 reported authorities found Casey’s cell phone in the ocean, but her other belongings were still in her room at the retreat. 

A spokesperson for Taylor’s family told the Washington Blade they have reached out to the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in the Bahamas for assistance. Eyewitness News Bahamas, a Bahamian newscast, on June 28 reported the Federal Bureau of Investigation is working with Bahamian authorities to investigate Taylor’s disappearance.

The Bahamas Organization of LGBTI Affairs has also offered its support to Taylor’s family and assistance to authorities.

“There is still hope,” Alexus D’Marco, the group’s executive director, told Eyewitness News Bahamas. “They’re just looking for that piece of hope and to have some closure to finding their loved one.” 

D’Marco also called for Bahamian authorities to do more to investigate missing persons’ cases in the country.

“A human being is missing, and that is the whole thing about this,” she told Eyewitness News Bahamas. “Regardless of her gender identity, being identified as a trans person, she’s still a human being and she’s still a visitor to our shores.” 

Anyone with information about Casey’s disappearance can call the Royal Bahamas Police Force’s Criminal Investigation Department at (242) 502-9991, (242) 502-9975, or (202) 502-9976.

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Africa

Ugandan activists again appeal ruling that upheld Anti-Homosexuality Act

Country’s Constitutional Court in April refused to ‘nullify’ law

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(Image by rarrarorro/Bigstock)

A group of LGBTQ activists in Uganda on Thursday once again appealed a ruling that upheld the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act.

President Yoweri Museveni in May 2023 signed the law, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The U.S. subsequently imposed visa restrictions on Ugandan officials and removed the country from a program that allows sub-Saharan African countries to trade duty-free with the U.S. The World Bank Group also announced the suspension of new loans to Uganda.

The Ugandan Constitutional Court on April 3 refused to “nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act in its totality.” Sexual Minorities Uganda Executive Director Frank Mugisha and Jacqueline Kasha Nabagesara are among the activists who appealed the ruling to the country’s Court of Appeal on April 16.

A picture that Mugisha posted to his X account on Thursday notes he, along with Nabagesara, are two of the 22 activists who filed the latest appeal with the Supreme Court, which is the country’s highest court.

“Today, we have filed an appeal in the Supreme Court of Uganda to overturn the Constitutional Court decision that upheld the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Law,” said Mugisha.

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LGBTQ Kenyans join protests against controversial tax bill

More than 40 people killed after protesters stormed parliament on June 25

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There were clashes between police and protesters in Nairobi, Kenya, on June 2, 2024. (Screen capture via AP YouTube)

Queer Kenyans have braved the risks of homophobic attacks and joined young people in the nationwide protests against the government’s proposed tax hikes on bread and other essentials.

The protests, which started mid-last month before the National Assembly on June 25 passed the country’s controversial Finance Bill 2024, have been led by the country’s Gen Z and millennial populations.

The nationwide protests, which culminated with angry mobs storming parliament when the bill passed, have also drawn LGBTQ Kenyans who have marched with Pride flags alongside other protesters with the national flag. The queer protesters, however, stopped carrying the rainbow flags out of fear of anti-LGBTQ attacks after other protesters warned the presence of the Pride flag threatened to spur a serious backlash from parents, clerics, and government loyalists who oppose the championing of homosexuality, which Kenyan laws criminalize.

President William Ruto, who defiantly pushed for the enactment of the bill to raise more revenues to implement projects, bowed to pressure from the protesters and the international community and declined to assent to the proposed law. This decision followed the ugly scenes on June 25 after riot police responded to the peaceful protesters with force that left more than 40 people dead and more than 300 others injured from live bullets, massive looting, and destruction of property.

GALCK, which is a coalition of 16 LGBTQ rights groups, while supporting the anti-tax protests and the participation of their members stated that the Finance Bill “disproportionately burdens Kenyans and threatens our most vulnerable communities including the LGBTQ+ individuals.”

“For LGBTQ+ Kenyans who often face additional healthcare challenges, these taxes pose a significant barrier,” GALCK said in a statement.

The group reiterated that introducing taxes on digital content creation on which the majority of Kenya’s unemployed youths rely as a source of income would have also severely impacted the LGBTQ organizations and activists who depend on online platforms for advocacy and awareness campaigns.

“This stifles crucial efforts to address systemic inequalities faced by the LGBTQ+ community,” GALCK noted.

GALCK also stated the government’s proposed tax hikes on transaction costs for bank and mobile money transfers through the Finance Bill would have impacted LGBTQ people in need of emergency support and smooth flow of funds within the queer community.

Regarding the government’s proposal that would have allowed the country’s tax collector, the Kenya Revenue Authority, to freely access crucial information from people regardless of the existing data protection laws, GALCK noted the move would have amounted to a serious privacy violation to the LGBTQ organizations, activists, and donors.

“This bill is not just about the proposed tax hikes, it is about basic rights and the future of Kenya,” GALCK affirmed. “As GALCK, we will continue protesting and raising awareness until our voices are heard. Together, we can build a safe and sustainable country for all of us.”

Although GALCK has expressed its condolences to the families of protesters killed during the nationwide protests, it has thus far not reported any queer person killed or injured, even as a memorial concert in honor of the more than 40 victims was held last Sunday at Uhuru Park in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.

The Initiative for Equality and Non-Discrimination (INEND), an LGBTQ+ rights group, has also been instrumental in ensuring both the queer and non-LGBTQ protesters stay safe and healthy during and after protests by sharing informative tips.

INEND, for instance, informed the protesters on the need to bathe to get rid of teargas and other chemical compounds that riot police threw at them, residual dust, and sweat for healthy skin. The group also advised protesters to drink a lot of water to (re)hydrate their bodies, get enough rest after the protest, seek immediate medical care when injured, and receive psychological support.

“Once rested, movements (protesters) should regroup in a day or two to discuss follow-up steps for arrested members, successes or setbacks of the protest, opportunities created for movement-building and the next strategies involving media appearances, following up with institutions, social media campaigns, another protest, and suchlike activities,” INEND stated.

The nationwide protest movement, which is organic, has mostly been mobilized by social media influencers and human rights activists but with no de facto leaders. It is, therefore, difficult for authorities to deal with it and they have resorted to arbitrary arrests and abductions.

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