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Out in the World: LGBTQ news from Europe and Asia

Labour Party trounced Conservatives in UK elections

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(Los Angeles Blade graphic)

UNITED KINGDOM

The UK Labour Party won an overwhelming majority in national elections July 4, ending 14 years of Conservative Party rule that have been characterized by a deteriorating human rights situation for LGBTQ Britons, particularly transgender people. 

But the election of Kier Starmer as new prime minister seems to have queer people only cautiously optimistic at best. 

While Starmer’s Labour Party manifesto pledged to improve the queer people’s rights and safety by banning conversion therapy, expanding hate crime laws, and simplifying the gender recognition process for trans people, Starmer has also spent a lot of time playing to the widespread anti-trans hysteria in Britain.

He has said that trans people should not be allowed in single-sex spaces and courted noted transphobic author J.K. Rowling. 

That prompted a rebuke from Darren Styles, editor of Attitude Magazine, the UK’s leading LGBTQ lifestyle magazine. 

Styles had offered Starmer the opportunity to write an open letter to his magazine’s readers ahead of the election, but in an editorial, he writes that he couldn’t publish it without adding his own commentary.

“But between his copy arriving, on 23rd June, and today’s publication the earth moved beneath our feet. Since then, the Labour leader has said that he’d be willing to meet with JK Rowling to discuss sex and gender, and ‘respects’ her views,” Styles wrote.

“Much of … Sir Keir’s missive is positive and indeed impressive, does offer hope of genuine change and will likely reverse, in part, the trend of decline in LGBTQ+ rights in the U.K. But, in our opinion and in light of events, it is equivocal in parts in that it makes no mention of the trans issues that have subsequently come to light,” he wrote.

PinkNews reports that 56 out LGBTQ people were elected to parliament on July 4, including 46 Labour MPs, about 11 percent of Labour’s total caucus. It’s possible they may be able to push Starmer to make progress on LGBT issues.

But the total number of out LGBTQ MPs fell from a pre-election record of 67, after dozens of out Conservative and Scottish National Party MPs lost their seats.

FRANCE

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal on July 8, 2024, offered to resign after the second round of the country’s parliamentary elections. (Screen capture via Le Huffington Post YouTube)

French voters rejected the far-right in a dramatic reversal of expectations in the second round of parliamentary elections Sunday, choosing a deeply divided legislature where the left-wing bloc of parties will control the most seats and President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party holding the second-largest number of seats and the balance of power.

In the wake of the results, openly gay Prime Minister Gabriel Attal from Macron’s Renaissance party announced he would tender his resignation Monday morning, however, Macron rejected his resignation, asking him to stay on for stability while a new government is formed. Attal has been prime minister since January 2024.

Macron called the snap election last month after the far-right National Rally party won the most seats in European Parliament elections, seeking a fresh mandate for his government. 

Polls had widely predicted the National Rally would come out on top in the parliamentary election, but a flurry of cooperative deals between the left alliance and the Renaissance party after the first-round vote last weekend led to a consolidation of the anti-NR vote. 

While LGBTQ issues had not played a great part in the election campaign, the National Rally had in the past campaigned on restricting access to IVF and surrogacy for same-sex couples, and even banning same-sex marriage. 

Macron also turned to campaigning against trans rights, accusing the left-wing bloc of wanting to allow trans people to change their legal gender by simple declaration at a townhall, something he called “ludicrous.” Nevertheless, that is already legal in the France of which he is president.

NORWAY

The man who fired a machine gun at an Pride festival in Norway in 2022, killing two people and wounding 21 others in an Islamic State-inspired attack, was found guilty of terrorism and sentenced to 30 years in prison on July 4.

Zaniar Matapour, a 44-year-old Iranian-born Norwegian citizen, fired 10 rounds with a machine gun and eight with a handgun into a crowd in three locations, including outside the London Pub, a popular Oslo gay bar, on June 25, 2022. Civilians assisted police in detaining Matapour at the scene. 

Norway’s Police Security Service told media at the time that Matapour had been known to them since at least 2015 and had grown concerned that he had become radicalized into an unspecified Islamist terrorist network. According to the service’s then-acting Chief Roger Berg, he had a “long history of violence and threats” and known mental health issues. 

The Oslo District Court found that Matapour had sworn allegiance to ISIS, the terrorist organization that governed a large part of Iraq and Syria between 2014-2019 and which has claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks across the globe.

Matapour has never denied carrying out the attack, but he pled innocent, claiming that he had been provoked to carry out the attack by an agent of Norway’s intelligence service posing as a high-ranking officer of ISIS.  

Matapour will be eligible for parole in 20 years, but he can only be released if he is deemed not to be a danger. Four other people are suspected of having been involved in the attack, but they have not been charged.

SLOVAKIA

The Human Rights Institute has filed a criminal complaint against the country’s minister of culture for inciting hatred against immigrants and Jewish people, as well as LGBTQ people.

The nongovernmental organization filed the complaint on July 4, a day after Culture Minister Martina Šimkovičová gave an interview to the Topky network, in which she claimed that the low birthrate among white people in Europe was due to LGBTQ people.

“We heterosexuals are creating the future, because we make babies. Europe is dying out, babies are not being born because of the excessive number of LGBTQ+ [people]. And the strange thing is [that it’s happening] with the white race,” Šimkovičová said.

Homophobic hate speech is not a crime in Slovakia, but racist and anti-Semitic hate speech is.

Human Rights Institute Director Peter Weisenbacher drew a connection between Šimkovičová’s statements and the shocking murder of two gay men outside a Bratislava gay bar in 2022.

“It is shocking that it has not even been two years since the terrorist attack on Zámocká, in which two people died, and a member of the government is saying such things. Even the statements of public figures, which cannot be called anything other than spreading hatred, incite homophobia, racism and anti-Semitism,” Weisenbacher said in a statement. 

Slovakia’s government has long been hostile to LGBTQ rights, including under current left-leaning populist Prime Minister Robert Fico, who was elected last year. 

Before joining his government, Šimkovičová had worked as a journalist, until she was fired for promoting anti-migrant content on social media. She then became a darling of far-right media, promoting anti-vax, homophobic, and pro-Russian content on social media and hosting the YouTube show TV Slovan. 

Her ministry also announced this week that it would cease all funding of LGBTQ-related content. Šimkovičová had called the policy a “return to normalcy” when the idea was announced in January.

INDIA

The Indian Supreme Court (Photo by TK Kurikawa via Bigstock)

A year after the India’s Supreme Court dashed the hopes of the country’s queer community by ruling that there is no constitutional right to same-sex marriage, the court is set to reconsider its ruling at a hearing on Wednesday. 

In October 2023, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Supriyo v. Union of India that same-sex marriage is for parliament to decide, not the courts. The court also ruled 3-2 against ordering the government to introduce civil unions. 

However, the court accepted the government’s offer to set up a committee that would investigate other ways to give same-sex couples more rights around inheritance, medical decisions, and other issues, and the court reiterated that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is not allowed under the constitution.

Since the ruling, two of the five justices retired — one who had voted for same-sex civil unions, and one who wrote the majority opinion against it.

One of the petitioners in the same-sex marriage case filed a petition for a review of the decision, noting that the ruling acknowledges that LGBTQ people face unjust discrimination but fails to order any remedy for the injustice.

“The majority ruling is self-contradictory, facially erroneous and deeply unjust. The majority found that queer Indians endure severe discrimination at the hands of the State, declared that discrimination must be prohibited, and then did not take the logical next step of enjoining the discrimination,” Udit Sood said in his petition.

LGBTQ people have made major progress in legal rights in India in recent years, largely through the courts. In 2018, the Supreme Court struck down the colonial-era sodomy law that criminalized LGBTQ people, and the following year, the government passed a law banning discrimination against trans people. 

Courts have also asserted that LGBTQ people have the right to autonomy and cohabitation, and that they cannot be subjected to conversion therapy.

If the Supreme Court does rule in favor of same-sex marriage, India would be by far the largest country in the world to legalize it. 

Also this week, the Court of Cassation in The Hague, Netherlands, is expected to deliver a long-awaited ruling on same-sex marriage in the Caribbean countries of Aruba and Curaçao on Friday.

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United Nations

UN officials reiterate calls for countries to decriminalize homosexuality

Volker Türk and Winnie Byanyima issued statement before global AIDS conference

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UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima. (Screen capture via Kellogg Institute YouTube)

The U.N. human rights chief and UNAIDS’s executive director have reiterated their calls for countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

“Laws criminalizing LGBTQ+ people must be consigned to history,” said Volker Türk and Winnie Byanyima in a statement they released on July 19.

The 25th International AIDS Conference began in Munich on Monday.

The statement notes Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Bhutan, Botswana, the Cook Islands, Dominica, Gabon, India, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, Palau, St. Kitts and Nevis, Seychelles, Singapore, and Trinidad and Tobago over the last decade have repealed laws that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations.

The Namibian High Court on June 21 struck down the country’s Apartheid-era sodomy laws. 

Dominica’s High Court of Justice in April ruled provisions of the country’s Sexual Offenses Act that criminalized anal sex and “gross indecency” were unconstitutional. Justice Kimberly Cenac-Phulgence in the decision said “the laws commonly known as buggery and gross indecency laws, contravenes the constitution of the Commonwealth of Dominica, namely the right to liberty, freedom of expression, and protection of personal privacy.”

Burkina Faso’s military government earlier this month said it plans to criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country. Ugandan activists continue to challenge their country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act.  

Activists maintain criminalization laws harm people with HIV/AIDS, among other groups. Türk and Byanyima in their statement say these statutes “harm public health.”

“Criminalization of LGBTQ+ people generates justified fear amongst people who need access to health services, and amongst the frontline workers who provide those services,” they said.

“In criminalizing countries, there is decreased provision and uptake of HIV prevention services, and decreased uptake of HIV care and treatment services,” added Türk and Byanyima.

They conclude the “decriminalization of LGBTQ+ people is vital for protecting everyone’s human rights and everyone’s health.”

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Out in the World: LGBTQ news from Europe and Asia

South Korean Supreme Court upholds same-sex couples’ health benefits

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(Los Angeles Blade graphic)

SOUTH KOREA
The South Korean Supreme Court delivered a victory for same-sex couples last week, upholding a lower court ruling that found same-sex couples must be given equal access to benefits under the country’s National Health Insurance Service.

The ruling is a landmark as the first legal recognition of same-sex couples in the East Asian nation.

The Supreme Court ruled that the NHIS refusal to provide spousal benefits to same-sex couples was unconstitutional discrimination. The ruling is final.

The case was filed by a gay couple, So Seong-wook and Kim Yong-min, in 2021 after the NHIS revoked So’s registration as a dependent of Kim and imposed a new premium. So and Kim had been a couple since 2017 and had held a marriage ceremony in 2019.

The NHIS allows married or common-law heterosexual couples to register as dependents in employer-backed insurance but had no policy recognizing same-sex couples.

The Seoul Administrative Court ruled for the NHIS in 2022, but the following year that decision was overturned by the Seoul High Court, which ruled for the couple that the denial was discriminatory.

“When I listened to the verdict, I was so moved that I couldn’t hold back my tears,” So told reporters outside the court. “It took four years to earn this dependent status. We need to fight harder to legalize same-sex marriage going forward.”

The advocacy group Marriage for All Korea said in a statement that the decision was just a first step.

“This decision brings hope to other same-sex couples living in Korean society and is a huge milestone toward marriage equality and equal citizenship for LGBTQ people. However, same-sex couples who are not legally recognized in their marriage still experience various forms of discrimination,” the statement says.

“The lengthy and arduous lawsuits that same-sex couples must endure to gain single rights as a spouse, as seen in this case, should no longer be necessary. Fundamentally, we will continue to push for a broader marriage equality movement to eliminate all institutional discrimination that hinders same-sex couples from legally marrying and fully enjoying their rights as spouses, and for LGBTQ people in Korea to enjoy equal citizenship.”

Several bills to recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions and to ban discrimination against LGBTQ people have been introduced by opposition members in South Korea’s parliament over the years, but none has progressed.

So Sung-uk and his partner Kim Yong-min. (Photo courtesy of marriageforall.kr)

LITHUANIA
A final attempt to pass a long-stalled civil union bill before the end of the current session of Parliament came to an anticlimactic end on July 18, as the government withdrew the bill from the agenda before the final day session began.

The civil union bill had long been a bone of contention in the fractious governing coalition whose largest party is the conservative Homeland Union and includes the more progressive Freedom Party, which had made the bill a priority.

The bill passed through two readings in parliament in part with the support of leftist opposition parties, but when the opposition withdrew their support of the bill — in part to deny the government a win on the issue — the coalition no longer had enough votes to get it passed, as a segment of the Homeland Union opposed it.

Over the past month, the Freedom Party had attempted to strong-arm the Homeland Union holdouts into supporting the bill, by threatening to block Lithuania’s appointment of a European commissioner unless the party supported the bill.

In the last few days of parliament’s session before the legislature is dissolved for October elections, it seemed that the parties had come to an agreement, and the civil union bill was going to be put on the agenda for a final vote on the final day of the session.

But the opposition Social Democrats refused to play ball, once again preferring to deny the government a victory on the file, even though the Social Democrats had campaigned on supporting civil unions in the past. Without their votes, the bill would be doomed to fail.

The government withdrew the bill from the agenda rather than allow it to fail. This will allow the bill to be brought back by the new parliament in October, rather than starting the process over again.

Despite the bill’s withdrawal, anti-LGBTQ protesters met outside the parliament and burned rainbow flags. Vilnius police said they are investigating potential charges of incitement to hatred.

The two-round parliamentary election is scheduled for Oct. 13 and Oct. 27, and polling shows the Social Democrats currently hold a wide lead.

Lithuania is one of only five European Union countries that do not recognize same-sex unions. The others are Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Poland, the latter of which has proposed a civil union bill that its government hopes to pass in the fall.

UNITED KINGDOM
The newly elected Labour government under Prime Minister Keir Starmer included a ban on conversion therapy in the King’s Speech that opened parliament on July 17, indicating that the bill will be a priority item during the session.

The King’s Speech is a tradition in UK politics, where the monarch reads a speech prepared by the government outlining its priorities for the upcoming session of parliament, usually lasting about a year.

During the election campaign, Starmer had pledged to back a transgender-inclusive ban on the abusive practice of conversion therapy, an issue which has become a political lightning rod in the UK over the past decade as a wave of anti-trans hysteria has gripped the media and much of the political class.

The previous Conservative government had pledged to ban conversion therapy six years ago but failed to bring a bill forward after floating the idea that the bill would allow conversion therapy for trans youth.

The UK LGBTQ advocacy group Stonewall praised the commitment to a conversion therapy ban in a statement.

“We welcome the new government’s commitment to banning conversion practices. Each day that these abusive practices remain legal, our communities are put at risk,” the statement says. “The government needs to urgently publish a comprehensive bill to ban these abhorrent practices once and for all.”

But the new government’s approach to trans issues is not entirely praiseworthy.

Two weeks ago, new Labour Secretary of State for Health Wes Streeting announced that his government was defending and extending a ban on puberty blockers for trans youth that was put in place by the Conservatives. That action has been denounced by trans activists and legal experts.

JAPAN
A trans woman is suing for the right to change her legal gender without first divorcing her wife, in a challenge to the nation’s laws surrounding both same-sex marriage and gender recognition.

The woman, who has not been identified, is in her 50s and has been in a long-term marriage to her wife, who is in her 40s, and neither partner wants to divorce. While she has legally changed her name to a woman’s name, her identification still lists her as “male,” which forces her to have uncomfortable conversations outing her trans status whenever she needs to show official documents.

Since 2003, it has been possible for trans people to update their legal gender in Japan, but only if they are unmarried. That essentially forces any married trans person to divorce their partner if they want to update their gender.

In 2010, the Japanese Supreme Court upheld the requirement that trans people be unmarried to update their legal gender, calling the situation “reasonable” and saying it did not violate the constitution.

But the woman’s lawyers believe the legal situation has changed.

Since 2021, several district courts across Japan have found that the ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. While that has not yet legalized same-sex marriage, these cases will eventually be decided by the Supreme Court. If the court agrees with the lower courts that the ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, then it should also find the divorce requirement for trans people to be unconstitutional.

Yoko Mizutani, one of the woman’s lawyers, says this case may also contribute to legalizing same-sex marriage.

“Many of those concerned have resigned to the notion that if same-sex marriages are not recognized, the unmarried requirement of the act will not change. If we win this petition, it could also help resolve the issue of same-sex marriage.”

SPAIN
The Constitutional Court has provisionally blocked an anti-LGBTQ law passed by the government of the Madrid Community that stripped a number of legal protections from LGBTQ people; citing constitutional, discriminatory, and jurisdictional issues.

Last year, the local government, which is led by the right-wing People’s Party and supported by the far-right Vox party, passed a bill that stripped legal recognition of trans youth, stopped allowing legal gender change without a medical diagnosis, allowed anti-LGBTQ discrimination and authorized conversion therapy.

Despite these legal protections being stripped at the local level, national laws still afforded LGBTQ people all of these rights and protections.

The national government, which is currently led by the left-wing People’s Socialist Party, filed for the injunction against the law, which it called unconstitutional, which the Constitutional Court has accepted.

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Philadelphia health providers bring trans-affirming surgery to Argentina

Temple University Hospital doctors recently traveled to Buenos Aires

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Buenos Aires, Argentina (Bigstock photo)

Philadelphia Gay News published this article on July 18. The Los Angeles Blade is publishing it with permission.

BY LAUREN ROWELLO | Argentina is known for implementing some of the most comprehensive federal laws to protect and affirm transgender people. In 2012, the country became the first to pass legislation that gives its trans citizens the right to be recognized and treated in accordance with their gender identities — and the right to develop a sense of personhood associated with this experience.

This law gave Argentines the right to change their legal documents to display accurate gender markers and updated names — something many trans people in the U.S. are still unable to pursue because of differences in state laws regarding the matter. Among various other rights — including confidentiality — the legislation also grants trans people in Argentina the right to access comprehensive hormone therapies and gender-affirming surgeries.

But the right to pursue authenticity doesn’t mean trans-competent care is readily available. That’s why Dr. Alireza Hamidian Jahromi, MD, director of the gender affirmation surgery program at Temple University Hospital, is passionate about collaborating with providers across borders.

He recently traveled to Buenos Aires with Dr. Michael Metro, MD, director of reconstructive urology at Temple University Hospital, to jointly perform the first-ever penile inversion vaginoplasty in Argentina.

“A lot of teaching and training has to happen before you can perform a surgery,” Hamidian Jahromi underlined, noting that resources — including access to trans-specific training — can be limited in some areas, especially for genital reconstructions or “bottom” surgeries.

For instance, in 2012 — the year Argentina’s trans-affirming legislation was passed — the U.S. had only six surgeons performing genital reconstruction surgeries. A lack of surgeons greatly limits a surgery’s availability. Today, more doctors are starting to learn about and perform these procedures in the U.S. — but insurance does not always cover them and some state laws are attempting to further limit people’s ability to pursue them.

To overcome the unique hurdles and barriers that each country faces, Hamidian Jahromi — who is on the central committee for certification and mentorship at WPATH (World Professional Association for Transgender Health) — urged advocates to not only raise awareness of trans people and their needs but also to push for stronger and more accessible training and education for healthcare providers.

“[Surgeons] specifically have to go through a special training in order to know how to bring their skills together to be able to align them with the patient’s specific need,” Hamidian Jahromi said, adding that a specialization in gender-affirming surgery requires many years of training to develop expertise.

Exposure to and experience in a variety of related fields — such studying and collaborating closely with both urology and plastics — is necessary, and finding programs and professionals to study under can be an additional challenge.

The first trans-specific surgical fellowship in the U.S. didn’t open until 2017. It took more than nine years of education — along with additional surgical experience completed in Europe — for Hamidian Jahromi to become fellowship trained and specialized in trans-specific surgical interventions.

It takes a lot of time and intentional effort to build a comprehensive program that can competently and efficiently meet the needs of its patients. A lack of appropriate training can and has led to botched procedures, infections, and other disastrous outcomes.

Fortunately, there are more resources for learning and honing these skills across the United States than there were in the past. Hamidian Jahromi, who is the assistant professor of Plastic and Reconstructive and Gender Affirming Surgery at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, often trains surgeons, fellows and residents here in Philadelphia today.

Continued learning is not only key to the development of trans-specific programs and new providers. Trans-competent experts rely on information-sharing between professionals to constantly challenge themselves in new ways with the hope of improving their skills, advancing their understanding of best practices, and implementing new techniques in how to better care for trans people.

Because of this desire and ability to share and exchange skills, Hamidian Jahromi was able to observe the surgeries and study with colleagues at NYU — who pioneered a robotics-assisted peritoneal flap vaginoplasty, which is more minimally invasive than traditional methods. Temple is now one of just a handful of programs to offer surgeries using this technique.

It’s just one of various modalities used to help Hamidian Jahromi’s patients achieve their goals.

“A lot of [needs] could be different in every patient,” Hamidian Jahromi explained about the differing challenges, unique experiences and individual perspectives of each patient — who all have a different idea about what a positive outcome will look like for them. “And that’s actually a welcome part of these kinds of surgeries for me — because you have to see the patient, you have to see the world through their eyes, you have to try to understand.”

“I also have to mention that a lot of these surgeries need more than one surgeon at the time of the surgery. It’s multi-speciality,” he added, explaining that teams of experts in those related fields often work together to achieve the best outcomes. “So when I’m standing here in front of you, I’m standing on a pillar of different members of my team that all work together very closely in order to create a success story for each individual patient. It’s a whole team’s work.”

Hamidian Jahromi, who is cisgender, was drawn to trans healthcare because he appreciated the opportunity to make such a positive difference in the lives of patients and to develop longer relationships with each person he supports.

“When you put together the happiness and the help you’re providing for the patients, I’m very well-rewarded every day,” he added.

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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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