Inter Press Service » LGBTQ http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 17 Apr 2014 10:36:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Rapping to Uganda’s News Beat http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/rapping-ugandas-news-bulletins/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rapping-ugandas-news-bulletins http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/rapping-ugandas-news-bulletins/#comments Tue, 18 Mar 2014 08:41:57 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132936 “People in Ukraine took over power. “Celebrated a few days, then the party went sour…” raps Sharon Bwogi, aka Lady Slyke, on NewzBeat, a weekend show that airs on Uganda’s channel NTV in both English and the local language Luganda.  It might sound strange — hearing a news item on the political situation in Ukraine being rapped. But […]

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Daniel Kisekka (l), aka Survivor and Sharon Bwogi (r), aka Lady Slyke, are presenters on NewzBeat, a Ugandan news programme that raps the news. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Daniel Kisekka (l), aka Survivor and Sharon Bwogi (r), aka Lady Slyke, are presenters on NewzBeat, a Ugandan news programme that raps the news. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Mar 18 2014 (IPS)

“People in Ukraine took over power.

“Celebrated a few days, then the party went sour…” raps Sharon Bwogi, aka Lady Slyke, on NewzBeat, a weekend show that airs on Uganda’s channel NTV in both English and the local language Luganda. 

It might sound strange — hearing a news item on the political situation in Ukraine being rapped. But a new show in this East African nation, where half of its 36.4 million people are below the age of 15 and media censorship restricts the information people receive, hopes to grab the audience’s attention through “rhyme and reason”.

NewzBeat airs on Uganda’s free-to air channel NTV and is recorded in an independent studio in a suburb outside the country’s capital, Kampala. The team records one segment between four and five minutes – which takes about half an hour to film using two cameras, a green screen and a few other pieces of equipment – every week.

Each episode includes a mix of four or five international and local stories and includes a human interest, sport and entertainment piece.

Bwogi co-hosts hosts NewzBeat with Daniel Kisekka, aka Survivor, and the show also features 13-year-old anchor MC Loy. She is still in school but acts as the show’s “special correspondent”, making her one of, if not the youngest, “rapping journalist”.

She recently filed a piece on female boxers in Kampala’s Katanga slum for International Women’s Day. The programme, “borrowed” from hip-hop mad Senegal in West Africa, has only been on air for two weeks in Uganda.

“Right now it’s a mixed bag. Obviously the hip-hop fans are crazy about it but there are people who don’t understand it because hip-hop is not big here, it’s just getting there,” Kisekka, a hip-hop veteran who’s been rapping since 1988, tells IPS.

“[But] it encompasses so many things. It’s informative, it’s entertaining, it’s educational.”

He claims most youth aged under 30 are not interested in news and current affairs.

“It has been like that for such a long time,” says Kisekka. “But hip-hop is very popular with them. When we do a hip-hop show they say ‘I didn’t know this happened’. It’s only because we put it in the language they understand.”

Arnold Ntume, 23, stumbled across NewzBeat while channel surfing and is now a regular viewer.

“I was like ‘oh what’s this?’” the videographer tells IPS.

“It’s a different idea in Uganda. I learn more. And there’s some news that we don’t get on the other stations, mostly stories about our real lives.”

Uganda does not have a great track record when it comes to media freedom, which could explain why news consumption among young people may be low.

Last May, two privately-owned newspapers and radio stations were shut down by police for 11 days after reporting on a letter, allegedly written by an army general, that claimed that President Yoweri Museveni was grooming his son to succeed him.

According to the Press Freedom Index Report 2013, released by the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda earlier this month, space for reporters to operate freely in the country has continued to shrink.

Senior researcher at Human Rights Watch’s Africa division Maria Burnett tells IPS that over the years the organisation has documented and raised concerns about the “ways in which the Ugandan government limits free expression under the dubious guise of keeping public order and security.

“We have documented intimidation and harassment of journalists and station managers, especially those who are critical of the government, present opposing political views, or expose state wrongdoing, such as corruption or failure to investigate crimes outside Kampala.

“Uganda’s media regulatory system has shown clear partisan tendencies on several occasions. This is all very troubling because the bedrock of free speech is the right to criticise those in powerful positions,” Burnett says.

NewzBeat is upfront about not being objective but also stresses, speaking in rap terms, “the street party is the only party we affiliate ourselves with.”

Kisekka says the show aims to cover issues that aren’t predominantly given air time on other stations.

“There are some things that are never covered [in Uganda], like corruption. There are some topics that are off limit but we have to cover them,” he says.

Uganda has been generating international headlines of late, after Museveni signed a draconian anti-gay law and another bill which supposedly criminalised women wearing miniskirts and led to attacks on females across the country.

NewzBeat delved into both issues.

“We talked a little about it [the anti-gay law]. We don’t want to overdo it because we know how people feel about this thing,” says Bwogi.

Other items that have been covered include Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s 90th birthday, the trouble in Central African Republic and South Sudan, the Sochi Winter Olympics and climate change.

Once the team decides on the editorial lineup, the creative process starts.

“I love it because I’m doing rhyme but I’m telling a story,” Bwogi, who started rapping in 1999, teaches poetry and song writing and is a fashion designer, tells IPS.

“It was what we were already doing but it was just a matter of getting different topics from different countries.”

She says although the news is delivered in hip-hop the audience can still understand it.

“We don’t do it so fast like it’s a race,” says Bwogi.

“People like it, they say it’s something they’ve never seen it before. Some are just getting into it.”

Kisekka says writing the material is often difficult.

“You have to obey the rules of hip-hop. The material has to remain the same. You can’t change the news,” he says.

However, Kisekka says, “I think the process [of writing the script] is better than the end finished product.”

Kisekka says the team hopes to increase its human interest coverage in the future.

“We expect to get sponsors and get more reporters and then expand it to beyond four [minutes], so we can have people who go to northern Uganda [and other places] and get the stories from the people,” he says.

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Anti-Gay Law Will be Overturned Say Uganda’s Campaigners http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/ugandas-campaigners-convinced-success-legal-challenge-anti-gay-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ugandas-campaigners-convinced-success-legal-challenge-anti-gay-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/ugandas-campaigners-convinced-success-legal-challenge-anti-gay-law/#comments Thu, 13 Mar 2014 09:36:14 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132774 Human rights campaigners who filed a recent legal petition against Uganda’s draconian anti-gay law believe that they have a compelling case for its nullification.  “Judges are human beings. But we are pretty sure we have made a compelling case for the nullification of the law and the judges will exercise their judicial minds to the […]

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Fox Odoi, a ruling party MP, is one of the petitioners challenging Uganda’s draconian anti-gay law. He is pictured here on Tuesday Mar. 11 just as the petition was filed with Constitutional Court. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Fox Odoi, a ruling party MP, is one of the petitioners challenging Uganda’s draconian anti-gay law. He is pictured here on Tuesday Mar. 11 just as the petition was filed with Constitutional Court. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Mar 13 2014 (IPS)

Human rights campaigners who filed a recent legal petition against Uganda’s draconian anti-gay law believe that they have a compelling case for its nullification. 

“Judges are human beings. But we are pretty sure we have made a compelling case for the nullification of the law and the judges will exercise their judicial minds to the law as presented before them [rather than pay attention to] public sentiments,” Secretary of the Uganda Law Society, Nicholas Opiyo, told IPS.“Personally I do not agree that we’re going to lose in the Constitutional Court and the Court of Appeal… We have a good case.” -- Fox Odoi, a ruling party MP and former legal advisor to Museveni

On Tuesday, Mar. 11, a coalition of campaigners filed a petition with Uganda’s Constitutional Court in Kampala in response to the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014. President Yoweri Museveni signed the bill into law on Feb. 24.

The law strengthens penalties for homosexual acts, prescribing life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality” and criminalising the “promotion” of homosexuality. The team is seeking an injunction against the enforcement of the law.

Opiyo, who helped draft the petition, said the legal challenge “raises important constitutional and legal issues that the court must resolve satisfactorily.”

The petition was filed under the auspices of the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law (CSCHRCL), a coalition of 50 indigenous civil society organisations advocating for non-discrimination.

It argues, among other things, that the anti-gay law “violates Ugandans’ constitutionally guaranteed right to: privacy, to be free from discrimination, dignity, to be free from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment…”

The petitioners are also seeking a permanent injunction against media houses or any other organisations from publishing pictures, names, addresses or other details of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual and intersex (LGBTI) or suspected LGBTI persons.

On Feb. 25, just one day after Museveni signed the anti-gay law, Ugandan tabloid Red Pepper published a list of what it said were “Uganda’s 200 top homos”. A string of other sensational headlines in other editions of Red Pepper, and another tabloid Hello, ensued.

Geoffrey Ogwaro of CSCHRCL was named in a Mar. 1 issue of Red Pepper, which carried the front page headline “Ugandan homos form cabinet”. His photo was featured on page two.

Although the activist’s immediate family knowns that he is gay, he said his mum was still “heartbroken” after being shown the paper.

“She’s never really come to terms with it and when it became public it was really embarrassing for her,” Ogwaro said.

“She’s cooled down now but it was a bit of a shock to her.”

Opiyo said his “conservative guess” was that it could take “about six months” to come up. But he said that even then the public discourse surrounding the law, which is popular with most Ugandans, may “weigh on the minds of the judges.”

“We are under no illusion that this petition is the most popular petition. We know too well that the general public may be adverse to our petition and will seek to vilify the petitioners and their lawyers,” Opiyo said.

Among the petitioners is Fox Odoi, a ruling party MP and former legal advisor to Museveni who is the only legislator to speak out publicly against the law.

“I believe it’s irrational, it has no basis, it offends every human right that you can think about, it offends our constitution. It offends our treaty obligations of Uganda,” Odoi told IPS about the anti-gay law.

“As a citizen, as a legislator, as a human rights lawyer, I owe it to the people of Uganda to stand up and challenge it. Of course there’s a big political risk, this society is very homophobic and they’ll brand you all manner of names just because you stood up to speak for the minority. But in life you take a risk even waking up in your bed every day.”

“Personally I do not agree that we’re going to lose in the Constitutional Court and the Court of Appeal… We have a good case,” Odoi said.

Other petitioners include law professor Joe Oloka-Onyango, media personality Andrew Mwenda and former leader of the opposition Professor Morris Ogenga-Latigo.

A number of distinguished gay rights campaigners and Ugandan NGOs Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) and the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) are also named in the petition.

Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of HRAPF, said there had been 10 cases of arrests of LGBTI and suspected LGBTI people since the law was passed by Parliament in December. There were also more than three cases of evictions of tenants by landlords who did not follow due process of the law.

Ugandan activists have vowed for years to challenge the law in court. Campaigners have already notched up two legal victories. In 2011 leading gay rights activist David Kato and two others won a case against now defunct tabloid Rolling Stone, which had called for homosexuals to be hanged. Weeks later Kato was murdered.

In 2008 two lesbians, Yvonne Oyoo and Victor Juliet Mukasa, were awarded 7,800 dollars by a judge who found their rights were violated when the pair was arrested and one of them was undressed by police.

Some activists are hopeful they could win again.

“I think court could work out, it’s usually very objective. It has been very objective in the other two cases that have been won,” Ogwaro of CSCHRCL said.

“However, there are going to be the usual delays because the judges will fear issuing the judgment and how it will be seen.”

The petitioners say that even if the Constitutional Court does not rule in their favour, it is not the end.

“We shall appeal to the Supreme Court. Uganda is [also] a signatory to the law that establishes the East African Community, there is a court and we shall explore that option. We shall keep fighting,” said Odoi.

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Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill Puts U.S. Aid at Risk http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/ugandas-anti-gay-bill-puts-u-s-aid-risk/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ugandas-anti-gay-bill-puts-u-s-aid-risk http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/ugandas-anti-gay-bill-puts-u-s-aid-risk/#comments Wed, 26 Feb 2014 00:41:54 +0000 Bryant Harris http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132093 Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s authorisation of the Parliament’s so-called “kill the gays” bill has led Washington officials to announce a review of U.S. aid to the African country. While the new law no longer provides the death penalty for LGBT people, as it did when parliament first introduced it, it escalates existing penalties on homosexuality, […]

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A scene from the award-winning documentary "Call Me Kuchu", which follows the fight of courageous LGBT rights activist David Kato and his friends against the rampant homophobia in Uganda. Credit: Katherine Fairfax Wright

A scene from the award-winning documentary "Call Me Kuchu", which follows the fight of courageous LGBT rights activist David Kato and his friends against the rampant homophobia in Uganda. Credit: Katherine Fairfax Wright

By Bryant Harris
WASHINGTON, Feb 26 2014 (IPS)

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s authorisation of the Parliament’s so-called “kill the gays” bill has led Washington officials to announce a review of U.S. aid to the African country.

While the new law no longer provides the death penalty for LGBT people, as it did when parliament first introduced it, it escalates existing penalties on homosexuality, allowing the state to imprison people for life if they engage in “aggravated homosexuality,” defined as repeated instances of gay sex between consenting adults or acts involving minors, disabled, or HIV-positive people.Lively claimed that gays were responsible for the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide, and asserted that they were now targeting Uganda by trying to “convert” Ugandan children.

The European Union, the United Nations and the Catholic Church have all strongly condemned the new law, which escalates existing penalties for homosexuality.

“Now that this law has been enacted, we are beginning an internal review of our relationship with the Government of Uganda to ensure that all dimensions of our engagement, including assistance programmes, uphold our anti-discrimination policies and principles and reflect our values,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced Monday.

Some European countries, including Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands, have already halted financial aid to Uganda in protest, while others, like Austria and Sweden, are similarly reviewing their aid commitments. Prominent U.S. policymakers are calling on the United States to temporarily cut off the 456.3 million dollars in aid to Uganda that Congress has appropriated for the coming fiscal year.

“We need to closely review all U.S. assistance to Uganda, including through the World Bank and other multilateral organisations,” U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy said Tuesday. “I cannot support providing further funding to the Government of Uganda until the United States has undergone a review of our relationship.”

Ugandan health and sanitation programmes in particular rely on foreign aid support, especially when it comes to combating HIV/AIDS. Uganda has an HIV prevalence rate of 7.2 percent, a rate that is roughly doubled for men who have sex with men.

“We are also deeply concerned about the law’s potential to set back public health efforts in Uganda,” Kerry said, “including those to address HIV/AIDS, which must be conducted in a non-discriminatory manner in order to be effective.”

As the new Ugandan law prosecutes organisations aiding LGBT individuals, a high-risk group for HIV transmission, Uganda’s actions could have an adverse affect on Ugandan organisations that partner with and receive funding from PEPFAR, the United States’ flagship anti-AIDS programme.

“From a purely operation standpoint … we know that the law itself has specific ramifications for PEPFAR assistance,” Timi Gerson, the director of advocacy for American Jewish World Service (AJWS), a development organisation with operations in Uganda, told IPS. “They’re going to have to look at how this law is going to impact its ability to run those programmes.”

Gerson is hesitant about freezing all aid to Uganda, however.

“AJWS doesn’t support the cutting of fundamental aid to those countries. We don’t support stopping aid to ordinary Ugandans,” she said.

“I wouldn’t talk about cutting aid, I would talk about shifting aid. I think the real question is how you would do that on the ground in light of the situation, so that has to be first and foremost in the [U.S.] review.”

U.S. evangelical influence

Some pro-LGBT advocates are more ambivalent about U.S. aid funding in Uganda, however. They point to an unacceptable trend of U.S. funding being administered by socially conservative Christian groups that have long espoused an anti-LGBT agenda, creating an environment where anti-LGBT legislation enjoys widespread support.

U.S. funding often ends up in the hands of conservative religious groups via a complex system of grants, sub-grants and further sub-grants awarded by sub-grantees.

“[The conservatives] are doing a lot of excellent work when it comes to services like orphanages and very good, well-funded schools,” Rev. Kapya Kaoma of Political Research Associates, a social justice advocacy group, told IPS.

“The conservative schools have very good libraries, unlike other schools, but have books that present a conservative angle regarding Ugandan politics. That is an advantage for them.”

Kaoma noted that organisations headed by people like Martin Ssempa, a vehemently anti-LGBT Ugandan pastor, have received 60,000 dollars in sub-grants from organisations receiving U.S. PEPFAR funds. (Ssempa also opposes the use of condoms.)

“I hear these calls to suspend aid and I am conflicted about that,” said Kaoma. “I don’t think that’s the best way to go, as suspending aid only hurts the poor and not the rich. Museveni won’t lose a single thing.”

Instead, he advocates sanctions on Ugandan individuals responsible for the law – and on U.S. evangelicals who he says have fuelled Uganda’s anti-LGBT movement.

“The alternative is selective sanctioning targeting the people who are responsible, all the anti-gay speakers,” he said.

“If they can be sanctioned, there can be a law that says no money can move from any U.S. organisation to an [anti-LGBT] group in Uganda – then they will start feeling the pinch. If they cut aid, it could just increase hatred against LGBT people as retaliation.”

Kaoma said that he is particularly eager to prevent certain individuals from entering Uganda. He lists prominent U.S. evangelicals such as Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brundidge, Don Schmierer and Lou Engle as having directly influenced Uganda’s anti-LGBT law.

In March 2009, Lively held a conference for Ugandan political, clerical and civic elites, where he spoke to them about the “gay agenda”. Lively claimed that gays were responsible for the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide, and asserted that they were now targeting Uganda by trying to “convert” Ugandan children.

Kaoma attended and filmed the 2009 conference, featuring Lively, Brundidge and Schmierer. A week later, Ugandan parliamentarians circulated the first draft of recently enacted law.

“The original bill reads like Scott Lively speaking again,” Kaoma said.

The Centre for Constitutional Rights, a U.S.-based watchdog, is currently representing Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBT advocacy group, as it sues Lively in a U.S. court for his alleged influence on the legislation.

Lively has conducted similar anti-LGBT activism throughout Africa as well as in Ukraine and Russia.

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Uganda’s Human Rights Record Plunges With Signing of Anti-Gay Law http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/ugandas-human-rights-record-plunges-signing-anti-gay-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ugandas-human-rights-record-plunges-signing-anti-gay-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/ugandas-human-rights-record-plunges-signing-anti-gay-law/#comments Tue, 25 Feb 2014 09:00:28 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132017 Uganda’s gays are bracing themselves for a spate of arrests and harassment as the country’s draconian anti-gay bill was signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni on Monday, Feb. 24. One gay man from Kamapla told IPS after the signing of the bill that there was nothing that he could do now and “the only […]

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Uganda’s gays are bracing themselves for a spate of arrests and harassment as the anti-gay bill was signed into on Monday, Feb. 24, 2014. Pictured here are participants of Uganda’s second Gay Pride parade held in August 2013. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Uganda’s gays are bracing themselves for a spate of arrests and harassment as the anti-gay bill was signed into on Monday, Feb. 24, 2014. Pictured here are participants of Uganda’s second Gay Pride parade held in August 2013. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Feb 25 2014 (IPS)

Uganda’s gays are bracing themselves for a spate of arrests and harassment as the country’s draconian anti-gay bill was signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni on Monday, Feb. 24.

One gay man from Kamapla told IPS after the signing of the bill that there was nothing that he could do now and “the only thing [left] is to try my best and [leave the country] for a safer place.”

“There’s no one who says I want to become gay, especially here in Uganda. You’re just born with it. You do not choose,” he added.

What the Anti-Homosexuality Bill says:

Under the new law, the penalty for same-sex conduct is now life imprisonment.

The “attempt to commit homosexuality” incurs a penalty of seven years as does “aiding and abetting” homosexuality.

A person who “keeps a house, room, set of rooms, or place of any kind for purposes of homosexuality” also faces seven years’ imprisonment.

The law also criminalises the “promotion” of homosexuality. A person could go to prison simply for expressing a peaceful opinion. Local and international nongovernmental organisations doing advocacy work on human rights issues could now be at risk of criminal sentencing of up to seven years.

Source: Human Rights Watch

The new bill, officially named the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, strengthens existing punishments for those caught having gay sex and prescribes jail terms up to life for “aggravated homosexuality” — including sex with a minor or where one partner is HIV positive. The bill also includes the “offence of homosexuality” – this is where a person convicted of homosexuality is liable to life imprisonment.

Human rights lawyer John Francis Onyango, who has represented many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual and intersex (LGBTI) Ugandans, said he had “definitely” seen an increase in arrests of LGBTI people since the bill was passed by parliament on Dec. 20.

“And also many gay persons are living in apprehension about their security, their freedom and capacity to associate,” he told IPS, adding that he was currently representing the LGBTI community in court on a number of cases. Before the signing of the anti-gay bill into law, this East African nation already had some laws against those caught having gay sex.

Museveni defied international condemnation by signing the bill during a packed public ceremony at State House on Feb. 24.

It took many by surprise as Museveni said only late last week that he would put the legislation on hold while he sought advice from U.S. scientists on whether homosexuality is caused by nature or nurture.

But member of parliament Sam Okuonzi, who chairs the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, told IPS that Museveni had been under “tremendous pressure” from a growing chorus of MPs, religious leaders and locals to sign the bill. ”There is nothing that has united this country so completely and so strongly as this bill,” he said.

MP Stanley Omwonya told IPS after Museveni had approved it: “It’s really (about) preserving our culture. We want our people to be morally upright.”

Human rights activists have long vowed to challenge the law in court, arguing that it violates international human rights standards and is unconstitutional. Ugandan gay rights activist and winner of the 2011 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, Frank Mugisha, tweeted: “Signing the anti-gay bill Museveni scores at his own goal post – we shall challenge this law & the old law.”

In another post he said “@YKMusevenii knows we shall over turn this law in the constitutional court & with our determination we wont stop at nothing.”

Onyango said that the “the Anti-Homosexuality Bill also raises broader concerns about mainstream human rights organisations, about their shrinking space for operation of the civil society organisations (CSOs).” According to the bill, if an NGO “promotes homosexuality” then it can be closed and its directors or leaders prosecuted.

In a statement released on Monday, Feb. 24, Human Rights Watch said Museveni had dealt a “dramatic blow to freedom expression and association in Uganda.”

Just over a week ago, U.S. President Barack Obama warned Museveni that enacting the legislation would “complicate our valued relationship with Uganda”. In the past Obama has sent U.S. troops as advisors to Uganda to help the country fight the rebel Lords Resistance Army (LRA) and track down its leader, Joseph Kony. The LRA has been responsible for mass murder, rape and kidnapping in Uganda’s north.

Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, the European Union and South African Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu also released statements or spoke out over the anti-gay bill, with some warning there may be aid cuts if it was brought into force.

According to one report on Feb. 24, Norway and Denmark immediately said they were freezing or diverting aid while Austria said it was reviewing assistance. Canada, the White House and the United Nations released a strong statement condemning the law. The EU said approving the legislation was “draconian” while the United Kingdom said it was “deeply saddened and disappointed”.

Ugandan lawyer and human rights activist Adrian Jjuuko told IPS that the country should brace itself for aid cuts. But he stressed that Uganda needed “sanctions that don’t affect the common person but rather the people passing the law.”

“There are some aspects of aid that could be cut, rather than other aspects of aid. You wouldn’t cut aid that goes to healthcare, you can’t cut aid that goes to education,” said Jjuko, who is the executive director of NGO Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum.

“Maybe in terms of military spending and things like that…if that’s the kind of aid that’s cut, that’s the cut that will be felt because it goes directly to the president, his personal interests and ambitions, rather than the people of Uganda.”

He said that to cut aid over the issue of the anti-gay bill alone would be like turning a blind eye to other human rights violations in Uganda.

“The gay issue is not the only issue in this country,” Jjuuko said. “Seen as a whole issue, Uganda’s human rights record is going down.”

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South Africa’s Law to Stop Hate Crimes Against Gays http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/south-africas-law-stop-hate-crimes-love/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-africas-law-stop-hate-crimes-love http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/south-africas-law-stop-hate-crimes-love/#comments Fri, 14 Feb 2014 11:41:05 +0000 Melany Bendix http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131630 “Every day I live in fear that I will be raped,” said Thembela*, one of thousands of lesbians across South Africa being terrorised by the scourge of “corrective rape”. By living openly as a lesbian in Gugulethu township in the Western Cape, Thembela says she is at high risk of being assaulted by men intent on […]

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Thembela, a 26-year-old lesbian from Gugulethu, Cape Town, seldom leaves her home at night for fear of being the victim of “corrective rape”. Credit: Melany Bendix/IPS

Thembela, a 26-year-old lesbian from Gugulethu, Cape Town, seldom leaves her home at night for fear of being the victim of “corrective rape”. Credit: Melany Bendix/IPS

By Melany Bendix
CAPE TOWN, Feb 14 2014 (IPS)

“Every day I live in fear that I will be raped,” said Thembela*, one of thousands of lesbians across South Africa being terrorised by the scourge of “corrective rape”.

By living openly as a lesbian in Gugulethu township in the Western Cape, Thembela says she is at high risk of being assaulted by men intent on “correcting” her sexual orientation through rape.“Lots of my friends have been raped for being lesbian. It’s not an unusual thing.” -- Thembela

“They do it because they hate what we are, because they feel threatened by us,” said the 26-year-old filmmaker for the local documentary television series “Street Talk”

“I live with my partner and we live alone. Many guys in my neighbourhood know this and at any time they can come and kick down our door and rape us. They usually come in gangs and we would be powerless to stop them,” she told IPS.

“Lots of my friends have been raped for being lesbian. It’s not an unusual thing.”

Horrific reports of corrective rape are rife in South Africa, but just how many women and men have been raped and even murdered due to their sexual orientation is still unknown.

It is this dearth of data on hate crime that the country’s Department of Justice and Constitutional Development hopes to address with the “Policy Framework on Combating Hate Crimes, Hate Speech and Unfair Discrimination”.

The policy is the foundation for what will later become law and aims to “send a clear message that hate crimes will not be tolerated in South Africa,” according to Justice and Constitutional Development Deputy Minister John Jeffery.

He said the new law would create a separate criminal category for hate crimes.

Although it was created in direct response to the increase of hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in South Africa, the policy covers all forms of hate crimes, including xenophobic and racist attacks and hate speech.

During a briefing in late January, Jeffery said the policy framework had been “largely finalised” and would be released for public debate “shortly”.

Cobus Fourie of the South African Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation told IPS that having hate crimes as a separate category would shed light on how serious the issue was.

Ingrid Lynch, research, advocacy and policy coordinator for the Cape Town-based LGBTI lobby group Triangle Project, said the new legislation would meet the “desperate need” to monitor the extent of LGBTI-related violence and hate crimes.

“Without a crime category that recognises the influence of homophobic prejudice in violence against LGBTI people, we have no hope of systematic data collection and monitoring of the problem,” she told IPS.

“What we currently know is only the tip of the iceberg.”

Law Cannot Change “Hateful Attitudes”

While lauding the policy as a “symbolic” move to recognise and protect marginalised individuals’ plight, constitutional law expert Professor Pierre de Vos cautioned that law alone will “not change people’s hateful attitudes”.

He pointed out that South Africa already had several progressive laws protecting the rights of LGBTI people, including the legalisation of same-sex marriage. However, in practice these laws do little to protect LGBTI people increasingly faced with violence and victimisation.

“It will take much more than a new piece of legislation to address hate crimes,” added Lynch, who said “being able to experience [constitutional] rights continues to be the main challenge for LGBTI people in South Africa.”

Sibusiso Kheswa, advocacy coordinator for Gender Dynamix, the first African organisation focusing solely on transgender rights, argued that it was pointless introducing new laws, however well intended, if the criminal justice system could not implement them effectively.

Kheswa told IPS the root of the problem was that the system was “not victim friendly”, starting with the South African Police Service (SAPS) – a victim’s first point of contact.

Lynch agreed and said her research had found that LGBTI survivors of assault and rape are “typically confronted with humiliation, dismissal and even direct victimisation by the police because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Kheswa said this resulted in victims not reporting crimes out of “fear of secondary victimisation by the police and other players in the criminal justice system”.

“‘It would be a mistake to think that we can achieve better outcomes for survivors of LGBTI hate crimes within a broken criminal justice system,” warned Lynch. “We need structural transformation of the entire system, along with specific attention to LGBTI concerns.”

Education is Key

Fourie and de Vos both believe that education is key to reducing hate crime against LGBTI people in the long term.

“There should be far more vigorous education against prejudice, from basic school level right up to the government departments,” said de Vos. “But for that to happen you need political will.”

Johan Meyer, health officer for Johannesburg-based LGBTI advocacy group OUT, was upbeat that there was a good measure of political will behind the policy framework.

“There is always concern that the hate crime law might be like South Africa’s other progressive laws that are supposed to protect LGBTI people.

“But I do believe that in this case things are different, since there is real and committed involvement on national level from the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, as well as from the SAPS and the National Prosecuting Authority,” he told IPS.

Back in Gugulethu where Thembela and her partner triple bolt their doors and seldom venture out at night for fear of being attacked, she too is hopeful that the fledgling law will one day allow her to live free of fear.

“If we had our own law to protect us, a law that really punishes these guys for raping us, it might make them think twice. And if they think twice, maybe they will stop and I can stop being scared all the time.”

*Surname withheld to protect identity.

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India’s Gay Voices Crackle to Life http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/indias-gay-voices-crackle-life/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-gay-voices-crackle-life http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/indias-gay-voices-crackle-life/#comments Tue, 11 Feb 2014 09:25:51 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131418 It is Wednesday afternoon in Bangalore, known as India’s tech city for being the hub of information technology companies. In her small four by four-foot studio, Vaishalli Chandra, channel manager of QRadio which is dedicated to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, is in conversation with Ankit Bhuptani, a 21-year-old gay youth from […]

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Chandni, a LGBT community member in Bangalore, tunes in online to Qradio. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

Chandni, a LGBT community member in Bangalore, tunes in online to Qradio. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

By Stella Paul
BANGALORE, Feb 11 2014 (IPS)

It is Wednesday afternoon in Bangalore, known as India’s tech city for being the hub of information technology companies. In her small four by four-foot studio, Vaishalli Chandra, channel manager of QRadio which is dedicated to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, is in conversation with Ankit Bhuptani, a 21-year-old gay youth from Mumbai.

“I was 15 when I realised I was gay and it made me feel as though I had sinned against god. I began to condemn myself,” Ankit reveals. “But then I came to accept myself the way I am.”

Chandra, a straight person, smiles and calls out to her audience: “Yes, social acceptance is important and it begins with you accepting yourself. So let’s talk about that.”“We need no validation from others…our community is enough to validate itself.” -- Shaleen Rakesh

Thanks to opportunities to network, unburden themselves and celebrate, radio is clearly emerging as the choicest media of the LGBT community in India.

Priyanka Divakar hosts a show for the queer community titled “Yari Ivaru (who is this person?)”, aired on Radio Active, a Bangalore-based community radio station that started in 2010 that broadcasts on an FM channel, rather than through the Internet. Divakar comes from the same LGBT community that her programme is for.

Born a man, Divakar underwent sex reassignment surgery to become a woman after suffering for years what most LGBT people face in India: lack of civil rights, social ostracism, stigma and mockery. Gay sex is a criminal offence in the country.

Both Chandra and Divakar firmly believe that their shows increase freedom of expression by giving LGBTs a platform to be themselves. Guests here talk about their identity struggle, the reaction of their families to their sexuality and the opposition of society.

“Most of the time, parents themselves disown children after coming to know of their sexual identity. This drives them straight into a world of economic, social and emotional insecurity and it results in their joining the sex industry, begging or other criminal activities,” Divakar says.

But not all stories are bitter and sad. Some also share a happy message.

Shaleen Rakesh of New Delhi recalls on radio the day he told his mother he was gay. “She said that she wanted to hug me; it made her very happy to see me coming out of the closet about my sexuality.”

Besides sharing stories of the past, the community also uses radio shows to discuss the future, especially plans to end discrimination against the community.

Radio, says transgender activist Kalki Subramanium of Chennai, clicks with the young working class, to which most of the LGBT people belong.

“The radio these days [is] a new avatar; you can see young people listening to the radio when they are travelling to work or when they are at work. It is easy to access and doesn’t cost a lot,” says Subramanium who is an award-winning social worker and founder of Sahadari, a non-profit organisation that promotes gender equality in India.

Abhijay, a graphic designer in New Delhi who fears that revealing his last name might cost him his job, agrees with Subramanium. Abhijay often tunes into QRadio which he finds “very good at encouraging a person struggling with his/her sexual identity to open up.”

However, nearly five months after its launch, he feels the radio risks being repetitive, and ought to take up more serious issues like police atrocities, discrimination of LGBT people at the workplace and also lack of decent work opportunities.

“Look, identity is not the only issue we gay men have. What about the consequences of coming out in the open? How shall we deal with that? How to deal with discrimination everywhere?”

Akkai Padmashali, an LGBT rights activist from Sangam, a Bangalore-based NGO, says that access to QRadio is limiting, since a listener must have a stable Internet connection. There must be ways to reach out to those living on the other side of the digital divide.

Padmashali, who is planning to host a new show on QRadio, would like to see a “large number of community radio stations all across the country that address LGBT issues.”

But more stations would require more funding – a thorny issue. According to Chandra, QRadio received some of its funding from the United Nations Development Programme, but “sustainability remains a serious issue.”

Some point to a deficit of trust between aid agencies and the alternative media. Priya Darshi, a Hyderabad-based community member, says he had planned to set up a community radio station, but it didn’t happen as “nobody was willing to support a group of strange people talking about rights and rules.”

Padmashali says “the moral responsibility [of funding] should lie on the Indian state.” She has met with many political leaders and ministers in recent months, including Manish Tiwari, the federal minister for information and broadcasting, whom she describes as “very sympathetic to the LGBT community.”

Subramanium, on the other hand, feels that besides aid agencies and the government, the corporate sector should also invest in radio for the LGBT community.

“There are a number of private radio channels which have great funding by the corporate houses. The fund shortage exists only in community radios. But dialogue and sensitisation can help build new partnerships. Corporate social responsibility could very well include funding radios that promote gender rights,” she says.

Both Padmashali and Subramanium, however, say that despite financial and technical constraints, radio for LGBT people is here to stay.

Subramanium, who often promotes gender rights on a community radio station run by the students of Pondicherry University, says: “Despite the support shown by mainstream media, most of our community members remain misunderstood and unheard. There is a great yearning in the LGBT community today to break the silence and be heard. Radio is the greatest tool to do that.”

Meanwhile, over QRadio, the voice of Rakesh echoes: “We need no validation from others…our community is enough to validate itself.”

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Surviving Zimbabwe’s Anti-Gay Laws http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/surviving-zimbabwes-anti-homosexuals-laws/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=surviving-zimbabwes-anti-homosexuals-laws http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/surviving-zimbabwes-anti-homosexuals-laws/#comments Tue, 11 Feb 2014 04:55:03 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131381 Matthew Jacobs* has been married for two years but his wife doesn’t know that he is also in a relationship with someone else. If his secret were discovered, it could result in him ending up in jail. His crime? Being in a same-sex relationship. Zimbabwe criminalises same-sex relations. Even though the new constitution guarantees rights […]

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Pink waste bins donated by the Sexual Rights Centre, which supports gays and lesbians, sparked a furore in conservative Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Pink waste bins donated by the Sexual Rights Centre, which supports gays and lesbians, sparked a furore in conservative Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Feb 11 2014 (IPS)

Matthew Jacobs* has been married for two years but his wife doesn’t know that he is also in a relationship with someone else. If his secret were discovered, it could result in him ending up in jail. His crime? Being in a same-sex relationship.

Zimbabwe criminalises same-sex relations. Even though the new constitution guarantees rights such as equality and non-discrimination, it is silent on specific rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community. And it is risky, if not deadly, to be gay and lesbian in Zimbabwe – a country where such relations are beyond taboo."Sexual rights are a matter of life and death, the challenge is to access safe spaces where people can live their lives." -- Mojalifa Mokoele, SRC spokesperson

“What could I do? I had to get married because it was expected of me [even though] I had a relationship with another man. I have [to live] this double life to survive,” Jacobs tells IPS.

Jacobs is just one of many homosexuals who are forced to live a double life in this southern African nation as they try to avoid stigmatisation, discrimination and arrest. It is no secret that Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, is a fervent critic of homosexuality and has made a number of homophobic statements over the years. In July 2013, he criticised South Africa’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu for supporting LGBTI rights and said: “Never, never, never will we support homosexuality in Zimbabwe.”

Civil society activist and chief executive officer of the Habakkuk Trust, Dumisani Nkomo, tells IPS while every citizen is entitled to dignity, privacy and the enjoyment of all rights, in a conservative country like Zimbabwe, homosexuality is still hard for many to accept.

“I do not believe gays or lesbians should be discriminated against or should be persecuted because, like everyone else, they are human beings,” Nkomo says.

“In our conservative country, when pushing such an agenda one is bound to be ostracised. What anyone does in their bedroom is not any of our business, but once you bring something private into the public domain it becomes a problem,” Nkomo says.

It is a concern that motivated the establishment of the Sexual Rights Centre (SRC), a Bulawayo-based human rights organisation working with the LGBTI community, men who have sex with men (MSM) women who have sex with women (WSW), sex workers and the broader community to promote sexual rights.

SRC programmes officer Nombulelo Madonko tells IPS that the centre has documented cases of harassment of commercial sex workers, lesbians and gays by the police.

“When people talk about sex workers and gays, they forget that these are people, mothers, wives, sisters, brothers, fathers and men. Because of their orientation they have become faceless [and] they now have no rights,” says Madonko.

The SRC believes sexual rights, sex and sexuality should be part of the public discourse and not taboo because there is nothing shameful about consensual sex and sexual acts amongst adults.

According to the centre’s spokesperson, Mojalifa Mokoele, there is wide ignorance about sexual rights in Zimbabwe.

“The constitution in Zimbabwe is silent on sexual relations but criminalises gay/lesbian marriage. Not all gays and lesbians want to get married, but we do want our relationships to be acknowledged and recognised. All they want is to live their lives to the full, but that is too much to ask for in a society that is quick to judge and slow to accept,” Mokoele tells IPS in an interview at his offices.

“Sexual rights are a matter of life and death, the challenge is to access safe spaces where people can live their lives, but politicians have used the issue of gays … what they have said has become law and has become right,” says Mokoele.

Being lesbian or gay has an added burden when it comes to accessing other rights such as legal representation, education and medical care.

“How do I explain to a nurse about the painful tear in my backside without being asked how I got it in the first place?” Gideon Jones* tells IPS. He says that despite these challenges his family is aware of his status and comfortable with it. They are supportive and are encouraging him to pursue his ambition of being a poet.

Sian Maseko, SRC director, tells IPS: “Sexual rights are human rights and no one should be persecuted for who they love.”

Members of the the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) have represented the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), a local LGBTI rights organisation, in legal cases.

GALZ chairperson Martha Tholanah was arrested in 2012 and faced charges of running an “unregistered” organisation after the police raided the group’s offices and confiscated electronic equipment and various documents. In January, the Zimbabwe High Court ordered that the seized equipment be returned and that GALZ was not a private voluntary organisation and therefore not obliged to register in terms of the Private Voluntary Organisations Act.

“It is worrying that some authorities in Zimbabwe are [being increasingly] homophobic towards GALZ and people who are identified or perceived as being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI),” ZLHR spokesman, Kumbirayi Mafunda, tells IPS.

“Any harassment and persecution based on sexual orientation is a monumental tragedy and also a violation of international human rights law,” he says.

* Names changed to protect identity of sources.

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Suicide Brings Azerbaijan’s LGBT Community Out of the Closet http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/suicide-brings-azerbaijans-lgbt-community-closet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=suicide-brings-azerbaijans-lgbt-community-closet http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/suicide-brings-azerbaijans-lgbt-community-closet/#comments Fri, 07 Feb 2014 00:14:30 +0000 Shahin Abbasov http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131287 The suicide of a gay rights activist in Azerbaijan is prompting the country’s LGBT community to become more assertive in fighting for civil rights. Isa Shakhmarly, the head of the Free LGBT non-governmental organisation, died on Jan. 22, using a rainbow flag to hang himself in his Baku apartment. He was 20. In a suicide note, […]

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Shakhmarli is laid to rest the day after his suicide. Credit: Free LGBT

Shakhmarli is laid to rest the day after his suicide. Credit: Free LGBT

By Shahin Abbasov
BAKU, Feb 7 2014 (EurasiaNet)

The suicide of a gay rights activist in Azerbaijan is prompting the country’s LGBT community to become more assertive in fighting for civil rights.
Isa Shakhmarly, the head of the Free LGBT non-governmental organisation, died on Jan. 22, using a rainbow flag to hang himself in his Baku apartment. He was 20. In a suicide note, he faulted Azerbaijani society at large for pushing him to take his life. “This world… is not able to hold my colours,” the note stated.“Isa has died, but his fight for equality of all people in Azerbaijan will continue.” -- Javid Nabiyev

The LGBT community until now has kept a relatively low profile in socially conservative Azerbaijan. But Shakhmarly’s death catalysed Azerbaijani activists to take public action. On Jan. 27, over 20 activists held a news conference in Baku to announce plans for a signature drive for fresh legislation to protect sexual minorities, and for an outreach campaign and a hotline that could provide psychological counseling. They also designated Jan. 22 as a “Day of Pride in Azerbaijan’s LGBT Community.”

The Jan. 27 news conference marked the first such event held in Baku by LGBT activists, and took place without incident. A flash-mob event in downtown Baku area to memorialise Shakhmarly also did not experience any disturbances.

In planning their civil rights campaign, LGBT activists intend to capitalise on the fact that Azerbaijan will assume the chairmanship in May of the Council of Europe, one of the continent’s leading human-rights watchdog organisations.

“We will use this opportunity to demand further reforms in this area,” said Javid Nabiyev, a friend of Shakhmarly and the leader of Nefes (Breath), an LGBT non-profit organisation.

On Jan. 24, the Council of Europe’s rapporteur on LGBT rights, Robert Bedron, issued a statement of concern about Shakhmarly’s suicide.

The civil rights campaign in Azerbaijan is fraught with the potential for civil tension to spill over into confrontation, similar to that which occurred in neighbouring Georgia last May. Homosexuality has not been a criminal offence in Azerbaijan since 2000, and the constitution proclaims the “equality of all people.” But most Azerbaijanis are not accepting of public displays of same-sex relationships or identity. Gay clubs do not exist.

“We are not accepted by society — by parents, relatives, neighbours, classmates and so on,” Nabiyev declared at the news conference. “Some people avoid us, while others show open intolerance.”

Shakhmarly’s friends claim that the young man lived alone – an unusual status in this communal society – since his family did not accept his homosexuality. His suicide did not appear an impromptu decision; the day before his death, he reportedly paid off all of his debts.

A member of parliament who asked not to be named suggested that new legislation, as proposed by the LGBT activists, would do little in practice to gain LGBT Azerbaijanis a greater degree of mainstream social acceptance.  “The law cannot change people’s attitudes. Better educational work is needed,” the MP said.

Azerbaijan’s legislation already is in sync “with European [Council of Europe] standards for LGBT-rights’ protection,” asserted the MP, who works on social-welfare issues. “There is no need to approve a new law.”

Parliament will not discuss any bill on the topic, he predicted.

LGBT activists directed their public frustration more at society than at officials, but causes for concern about the government do exist. While several LGBT-rights groups exist in Azerbaijan, none have been registered officially as non-governmental organisations, including Shakhmarly’s Free LGBT group.

Although no official record of violence against sexual minorities exists, police do not always listen to complaints about prejudice or harassment, commented Free LGBT activist Gulnara Azimzade. She said going to the police was “often useless because the police attitude toward us is often humiliating.”

The government has not commented on Shakhmarly’s death or responded to the activists’ remarks contained in his suicide note.  Azerbaijani media reports about Shakhmarly’s suicide and subsequent events have tended to be either sympathetic or neutral. But the mood is different online, where many social-network and forum users, particularly those stressing their Islamic beliefs, have left aggressively homophobic denunciations of Shahkmarly and other members of the LGBT community.

Similar hostility was on display at Shakhmarly’s funeral in the strongly conservative Baku suburb of Bina. Some residents threw stones at Shakhmarly’s friends and their cars as a protest against burying a gay man in the local cemetery. The burial occurred only after a Bina mullah stated that a person’s past cannot prevent his interment.

For LGBT activist Nabiyev and others, thrown stones and name-calling won’t deter them from agitating for their rights. “Isa has died, but his fight for equality of all people in Azerbaijan will continue,” Nabiyev said.

Editor’s note: Shahin Abbasov is a freelance correspondent based in Baku. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

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Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill, Unsigned but Still Effective http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/unsigned-effective-ugandas-anti-gay-bill/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unsigned-effective-ugandas-anti-gay-bill http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/unsigned-effective-ugandas-anti-gay-bill/#comments Tue, 21 Jan 2014 11:23:51 +0000 Faith Lokens http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130496 Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, has reportedly refused to sign a controversial anti-gay bill that would mean life in prison for people convicted of homosexual acts. But many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual and intersex (LGBTI) people in the East African country, and NGOs trying to help them, say many have been suffering discrimination for years and […]

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Homosexuals in rural Uganda lack condoms and lubricants for safe sex. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

Homosexuals in rural Uganda lack condoms and lubricants for safe sex. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

By Faith Lokens
KAMPALA, Jan 21 2014 (IPS)

Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, has reportedly refused to sign a controversial anti-gay bill that would mean life in prison for people convicted of homosexual acts.

But many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual and intersex (LGBTI) people in the East African country, and NGOs trying to help them, say many have been suffering discrimination for years and it is getting worse.

“People think it [the bill] is already law,” Judith, who asked not to be identified for her safety, told IPS.  “Whether the bill is passed or not, we are suffering.”

Judith, 25, is an HIV positive former sex worker, a man trapped inside a woman’s body, who turned to sex work for financial survival after her parents suspected she was gay when she was 16 and threw her out of their village home.

For her, the rejection has already started. Judith claims she was discriminated against in early January at the clinic she regularly visits in Kampala.

Judith, who was diagnosed HIV positive in 2008 and has a dangerously low immune system and gonorrhoea, says the doctor told her that other patients were complaining because the clinic was treating a “gay”.

“‘Don’t come back,’ that’s what she told me. ‘Patients are complaining that we are working on homosexuals. It’s not allowed here in our culture. I’m a Christian,’” Judith recalled.

“I felt very bad and almost cried but I’m used to it [the slurs]. I was speechless, I left immediately,” she told IPS.

Judith says that most Ugandans do not understand the idea of being transgender.

“Here, people don’t know anything about trans [sexual] issues. They just know gay and lesbian,” she says.

The way Judith was treated is “not surprising”, Enrique Restoy, a senior advisor on human rights at the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, told IPS.

“We have been receiving reports of HIV services being denied to men who have sex with men and transgender people in Uganda for years,” said Restoy.

He said that the passing of the draconian bill by parliament on Dec. 20 sent a “devastating signal to every citizen that it is okay to discriminate and stigmatise people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

“The bill has been eroding the human rights of LGBTI people and driving them away from essential HIV services ever since it was tabled in parliament in 2009,” he added.

In his view, the legislation contravenes human rights conventions and political commitments on the HIV response signed by Uganda. In the 2011 United Nations Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS, all member states committed to passing laws to protect populations vulnerable to HIV.

However, in recent years, Uganda, Nigeria and Malawi have proposed or approved homophobic legislation.

In a statement, the alliance said the bill would have “a disastrous impact on the HIV response.” The U.N., European Union and United States also criticised it.

HIV prevention in jeopardy

Uganda’s bill called for life in prison for anyone convicted of “aggravated homosexuality”, which includes same-sex acts with children or by anyone who is HIV positive.

According to one report, the bill made it a crime to “promote” homosexuality, which could include offering HIV counselling to gays.

This could affect local groups, supported by the alliance and other donors, which provide HIV prevention and counselling advice to gay people.

Statistics on gay men and HIV are hard to find but, according to a survey funded by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, of 455 men who have sex with men in Kampala, they are at “substantially higher risk” of contracting HIV than the general adult male population.

A 2009 study by the School of Public Health at Makerere University on men who have sex with men in Kampala found that their HIV infection rates were almost twice as high, 13 percent, as the national average of seven percent.

Dr Sam Okuonzi, a medical doctor and member of parliament, calls homosexuality an “abnormality”, but says only those who “promote, encourage and glorify it” should be punished.

He is adamant that the bill would not prevent HIV positive homosexuals from using health services.

“Any prohibitive provision to that effect must have been removed or will be removed,” he told IPS. “This should enable all HIV/AIDS patients to access medical treatment without fear of prosecution.”

Okuonzi observed that the views of his constituents in Vura County in Arua District, in northern Uganda, are “more extreme” than his own.

During a recent trip to Soroti in Eastern Uganda, Judith found that LGBTI people in rural areas face even more of a battle when it comes to accessing health services and enduring discrimination.

“They don’t have condoms, they don’t have lubes [lubricants], they’re chased from their homes,” she said.

Despite feeling unwelcome, Judith believes the doctor in Kampala is not homophobic: “There is pressure from other people. She wants to keep her job. This bill has affected us a lot.”

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Sexual Minorities Fight for Health Services In Uganda http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/budding-recognition-health-needs-sexual-minorities-uganda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=budding-recognition-health-needs-sexual-minorities-uganda http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/budding-recognition-health-needs-sexual-minorities-uganda/#comments Mon, 16 Dec 2013 13:39:48 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129536 At an unremarkable office on Bukoto Street in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, health workers and civil society activists attend a regular meeting to offer information and advice on living with HIV and AIDS. What is unusual is that these information sessions cater to a group of around 50 transgender women. The “Come Out Post-Test Club”, […]

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LGBT activists, human rights observers and police officers wait outside a courtroom in Uganda's constitutional court. Many trans women have died in Uganda because of discrimination in the public health service. Credit: Will Boase/IPS

LGBT activists, human rights observers and police officers wait outside a courtroom in Uganda's constitutional court. Many trans women have died in Uganda because of discrimination in the public health service. Credit: Will Boase/IPS

By Wambi Michael
KAMPALA, Dec 16 2013 (IPS)

At an unremarkable office on Bukoto Street in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, health workers and civil society activists attend a regular meeting to offer information and advice on living with HIV and AIDS. What is unusual is that these information sessions cater to a group of around 50 transgender women.

The “Come Out Post-Test Club”, as the group calls itself, was established early this year as a safe space and advocacy group for trans women sex workers living with HIV. The club’s executive secretary, Bad Black, says it is helping to fill a desperately needed gap in support services.

“It is one step in the right direction,” says Black. “We hold online discussions. We also have regular physical meetings in a safe space. We are about 50 members, as of June 2013, although the numbers are growing.”

According to Black, many trans women have died in Uganda because of discrimination in the public health service. “We have lost seven of our colleagues this year alone,” she recounts. “The biggest problem was negligence by the doctors. They never wanted to treat us because of our sexual orientation. We thought many more of us would die if we remained in hiding.”“Abby wouldn’t have died if the nurses and doctors had not stigmatised her. They wrote the word ‘gay’ on her file." -- Bad Black, executive secretary of the Come Out Post-Test Club

The turning point for the group was in April this year when a colleague, Abbey Mukasa Love, died.

“Abby wouldn’t have died if the nurses and doctors had not stigmatised her,” says Black. “They wrote the word ‘gay’ on her file. We decided to come out and form a support group and 20 of us began holding meetings every Sunday. We would invite some people to talk to us about treatment and prevention. It was not easy for many of us to come out.”

The club’s interaction with health workers at the Bukoto Street office has brought about some changes. According to Black, some health workers are opening up to offer better treatment and support to members of sexual minorities.

“To us that is a milestone, because very few would even associate with us once the Anti-homosexuality Bill was tabled in Parliament in 2009,” Black adds.

The bill, which is still before the Ugandan Parliament, would impose strict penalties against sexual minorities. It proposes the death penalty for the offence of “aggravated homosexuality”.

A survey by Makerere University’s School of Public Health on HIV infection in men who have sex with men (MSM) in Kampala in 2008-2009 found infection rates among this group were almost twice as high as the national average. Whereas the national infection rate on average is 7.5, according to the Uganda AIDS Commission, the Makere University survey puts the rate at around 13 percent for MSM.

Beyonce Karungi Tushabe, the executive director of Transgender Equality Uganda, an NGO working for the rights of transgender people, says it is difficult for transgender people to live with HIV in an environment where they have to keep their identities hidden.

“The restrictions are still the same [since the study]. The stigma is still higher [for transgender] in hospitals. So, the few of us that are on antiretroviral treatment are just the tip of the iceberg,” Tushabe says.

However, there has been some progress for this minority group.

According to Flavia Kyomukama, a member of the Global Coalition of Women against AIDS, Uganda’s new strategic plan on HIV/AIDS control mentions MSM among high risk groups whose HIV prevalence is above the national average.

“This is the first time that our plan is mentioning MSM in HIV/AIDS control. And that is good for MSM and other most-at-risk populations like sex workers,” says Kyomukama, who has lived with HIV/AIDS for 25 years.

In their World AIDS Day message, a coalition of 14 civil society organisations said that they were seeing some positive developments toward mainstreaming MSM and other at-risk populations in HIV and AIDS policy, and treatment by the health ministry and other actors.

Moses Kimbugwe, an activist with Spectrum, an NGO providing HIV and AIDS education and prevention for MSM in and around Kampala, says, “We are happy the Ministry of Health is committed to establishing clinics for MSM and sex workers in Kampala.”

The ministry is also carrying out an epidemiological survey of key at-risk populations in order to determine their estimated size and better define their unmet public health needs.

The secretariat for most at-risk populations – in whose Bukoto Street office the “Come Out Post-Test Club” meets – is now partly funded by the Ministry of Health and the Uganda AIDS Commission.

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Indian Gays Prepare to Fight Again http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/indian-gays-prepare-fight/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indian-gays-prepare-fight http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/indian-gays-prepare-fight/#comments Fri, 13 Dec 2013 09:12:47 +0000 Ranjita Biswas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129514 Human rights have taken a step back in India, activists say after the Supreme Court overturned a ruling of the High Court that had earlier lifted the ban on gay sex. The Delhi High Court ruling had in effect suspended application of Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The article, which criminalises homosexuality, […]

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By Ranjita Biswas
KOLKATA, Dec 13 2013 (IPS)

Human rights have taken a step back in India, activists say after the Supreme Court overturned a ruling of the High Court that had earlier lifted the ban on gay sex.

The Delhi High Court ruling had in effect suspended application of Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The article, which criminalises homosexuality, was introduced in India in 1860 under British colonial rule, echoing conservative Victorian values of the age. The 19th century law indicts homosexuality as going against the law of nature by indulging in “unnatural acts”.

The Delhi High Court ruling was in response to a petition filed in 2001 by the Naz Foundation, an NGO in Delhi, that challenged the constitutional validity of the article on the grounds that it criminalises homosexual acts even between two consenting adults.“The court has overturned a verdict, it hasn’t overturned a movement."

Some religious leaders including Hindus, Muslims and Christians challenged the Delhi High Court ruling before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court this week upheld their appeal and quashed the verdict of the High Court. The Supreme Court noted that the LGBT community in the country is “miniscule”.

The author of A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth, who is open about his sexual orientation, minced  no words when he said in an interview with news channel NDTV, “I was not a criminal yesterday, but I am today.” He called the Supreme Court ruling “barbaric”.

Many people in India, not necessarily from the LGBT community, believe the upholding of Article 377 is a step to once again criminalise the LGBT community, and is a violation of human rights. “It shows a medieval mindset,” said Indira Jaising, additional solicitor general. She argued that India has lost an opportunity to correct a centuries-old wrong.

The unexpected verdict initially stunned activists, but the impact is sinking in now. Tripti Chandon of the Lawyers’ Collective in Delhi which represented the Naz Foundation told IPS there is a “slim chance” to reverse the judgment by filing a review petition. “We’ll do that,” she said.

Usually the same judges sit to re-examine a petition. But in this case one of the two judges who delivered the ruling retired the day after pronouncing the verdict.

The “unnatural act” stamp can also affect heterosexuals because oral sex is included. “So are we condoning voyeurs in the private domain?” Chandon asks.

She points to the case of Prof. S. Ramchandra Siras of Aligarh Muslim University near Delhi who was filmed by some intruders with a spy camera when he was with his partner. He was suspended by the university on the basis of this ‘evidence’ of his moral turpitude.

“Fortunately, that was in 2010, after the Delhi High Court verdict, and lawyers successfully fought the case in the Allahabad High Court on the premise that he could not be penalised. He was reinstated by the university. The punishment should have been given to those who barged into his private quarters to take photographs illegally.”

Siras, who had expressed  a desire to work for the gay community died soon after, under ‘mysterious’ circumstances.

Malobika, founder member of Sappho for Equality, a lesbian empowerment group in Kolkata, told IPS: “The Supreme Court verdict is a setback not only for the LGBT movement, but for democracy as well. For the last four years we have been slowly building up the trust for inclusiveness, and people were coming out more courageously about their sexuality in our society. But now they will go underground for fear of harassment.”

She fears that without the legal back-up, police harassment as well as societal pressure will rise. Openly gay people will find it difficult to find jobs, she said. Lesbians will find relationships more difficult due to  society’s conservative mindset, she said. “Basically under Article 377 IPC we are criminals.”

Pawan Dhall, a founding member of Varta, a voluntary organisation on gender and sexual education in Kolkata, told IPS: “The  verdict will have a far-reaching and adverse impact on  public healthcare. Today, the thrust of the HIV/AIDS programme worldwide is on the MSM [men having sex with men] community, along with the commercial sex workers. We fear that people from the MSM community who came to take care of healthcare needs may prefer to be invisible again.”

Dr Dilip Mathai, vice-president of the AIDS Society of India, said in an interview in the Times of India, “The homosexual act will not disappear but the community seeking help will reduce drastically.”

The Supreme Court judgment quoted data from 2006 furnished by the ministry of health and family welfare, indicating that of the estimated MSM population of 2.5 million in India, 10 percent are at risk of HIV infection.

The Supreme Court has placed the onus of changing the existing law on parliament. Activists do not hold much hope that parliament will move swiftly when only about five months are left for the next general election. They fear that apprehensions over a conservative backlash may hinder any positive action.

However, several of the ruling Congress party’s representatives have said a review petition should be encouraged with a greater number of judges. Representatives of some other political parties have also expressed outrage at the verdict.

Meanwhile activists vow to continue the struggle for recognition. “The court has overturned a verdict, it hasn’t overturned a movement,” said Malobika. “We’ll overcome the hurdle at one time or another.”

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Ending AIDS in the City Where It Began http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/ending-aids-city-began/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ending-aids-city-began http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/ending-aids-city-began/#comments Sun, 01 Dec 2013 02:54:59 +0000 Samuel Oakford http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129180 Four hundred Eighth Avenue, home to the largest welfare centre for people with AIDS in New York, is the kind of grey, drab city building that seems like it was dragged, scowling, into the 21st  Century. Sandwiched between the banal hustle of Penn Station and the outer reaches of Manhattan’s once gritty waterfront, the corner […]

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A Nov. 15 town hall event on HIV/AIDS in New York. Credit: Courtesy of Matt Curtis/VOCAL-NY

A Nov. 15 town hall event on HIV/AIDS in New York. Credit: Courtesy of Matt Curtis/VOCAL-NY

By Samuel Oakford
NEW YORK, Dec 1 2013 (IPS)

Four hundred Eighth Avenue, home to the largest welfare centre for people with AIDS in New York, is the kind of grey, drab city building that seems like it was dragged, scowling, into the 21st  Century.

Sandwiched between the banal hustle of Penn Station and the outer reaches of Manhattan’s once gritty waterfront, the corner of 30th street buttresses the north end of Chelsea, New York’s historically gay neighbourhood, where AIDS activism began over 30 years ago but today new glass condos price out long-time residents."If states like New York can take it that last lap, it can really provide this bellwether to say that it can be done.” -- Simon Bland

On a rainy afternoon in November, several HIV and AIDS Service Administration (HASA) clients stood out front, waiting for a drizzle to let up and chatting with workers, occasionally bumming cigarettes from them.

Inside, next to an older black gentleman blowing his nose and chatting on a cellphone about his boyfriend, a slight Latino man sat quietly watching a scratched-up television box and the neon ticker next to it that would show his number. The man was immediately recognisable to straphangers who ride the A, C, E and 2, 3 subway lines, where he has panhandled for years.

For more than a decade, activists have fought to include HIV-positive New Yorkers in protected groups that by law cannot be made to pay more than 30 percent of their assistance for housing. Currently, many are forced to choose between food and rent or have to enter the shelter system, which has swollen in recent years.

“City administrations have been relatively hostile to people with AIDS the last 20 years, since [Mayor Rudolph] Giuliani took office,” said Mark Harrington, a longtime activist and founder of Treatment Action Group (TAG).

But with new progressive mayor Bill de Blasio taking office in the New Year and a more attuned state government, activists are pushing to introduce a plan of action bolder than any before: to end AIDS in New York by 2020.

A long road home

In 1983, only two years into the pandemic in New York, playwright and AIDS activist Larry Kramer wrote “it is the sad and sorry fact that most gay men in our city now have close friends and lovers who have either been stricken with or died from this disease. Doctors are saying out loud and up front, ‘I don’t know.’”

A Year to Live Becomes a Lifetime

Wayne Starks, a Vocal-NYC board member, knows how difficult it can be to handle the initial diagnosis. When a doctor told him in 1986 he had one year to live, he fell into despair.

“I was scared. I started using drugs and lost touch with my family,” Starks told IPS.

But when two, then three years went by and he hadn't died, Starks realised he had to turn his life around.

He started sculpting and today he takes Complera – a three-pill cocktail – once a day. His viral load is undetectable.

Much has changed since then and the height of the epidemic a decade later, when nearly 10,000 New Yorkers were dying from AIDS every year.

Today, if the disease is caught early, HIV-positive young people following a strict anti-retroviral regimen can expect to have “near-normal” live expectancies. Needle exchange programmes have reduced infections among intravenous drug users in New York from over 13,000 a year to only 150.

Yet today the state is also home to more HIV-positive people than ever, an estimated 160,000 New Yorkers. Of those, 30,000 likely don’t know their status.

Gay men still make up the overwhelming majority of new cases, and among young gay men, infection rates are rising at an alarming 22 percent nationally.

Nationwide, African Americans silently make up 44 percent of new infections. In New York, people of colour make up 79 percent of the HIV-positive population.

Although a 2010 New York AIDS Institute study found that deaths among persons with AIDS had declined 82 percent since 1992, 2,000 New Yorkers still died of AIDS that year.

The same data showed that 46 percent of HIV-positive New Yorkers were not receiving regular care and 63 percent didn’t have their viral loads under control.

Disturbingly, a quarter of new HIV diagnoses are made when patients already have full blown AIDS.

So last year, frustrated by what they saw as a failed national AIDS strategy, Harrington and Charles King, CEO of Housing Works, sat down to come up with a plan for New York.

The national plan “was not a strategy to end the epidemic, it was a strategy to maintain an epidemic,” said King, who interrupted President Barack Obama at the White House unveiling to say as much.

“The technology is there, the tools are there,” King told IPS. “Do we have the political will to make it happen?”

Of course, without a cure, ending HIV is not on the horizon, but ending AIDS, the dangerous late stage of the virus, is something UNAIDS has already proposed globally with its “zero new infections, zero people dying of AIDS and zero stigma” campaign.

“Surveillance is the big picture,” Harrington told IPS. “On the community level we need to greatly increase testing among populations at risk, like young gay men and transsexuals.”

New York can learn from other cities, added Harrington. In San Francisco, the number of people who know their status increased “from about 80 percent to about 93 percent in the last six years – one of the ways they’ve done it is to increase testing among at risk communities from once a year to three or four times a year.”

If more people know their status, more are going to get proper treatment and get their viral loads under control.

Studies have shown that HIV-positive people on proper anti-retroviral treatment and with low viral loads can lower the chances of transmitting HIV to their partner by 96 percent.

“The first level of the end is control and very minimal transmission… reducing viral load as much as you can,” King told IPS. “If you got 80 percent of infected population virally suppressed, it would have a huge effect on transmission rates.”

“We should be encouraging everyone who is HIV-positive to start treatment,” he added.

The New York plan would institutionalise testing that can distinguish between chronic HIV patients those that have early, acute infections, when it is most contagious.

Exposed populations – intravenous drug users, gay men having unprotected sex or anyone who feels they don’t have control over how and with whom they have sex – would be further encouraged to use microbicides, vaginal rings and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) – the most common of which, Truvada, has been shown to reduce infection rates by up to 78 percent.

Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), a sort of morning-after pill for HIV which is effective up to 72 hours after infection, is already recommended to victims of sexual assault. But organisers want to increase awareness among doctors and hospital staff, who can be unfamiliar with when and how to use PEP.

Harrington says this year’s Affordable Care Act and will mean most New Yorkers will have healthcare and its prevention mandate will encourage more regular testing, prevention and treatment.

But organisers know they have their work cut out for them. For one, the image of AIDS as a survivable disease can be an obstacle.

“Younger gay men are not having as much sex with condoms as they did 20 years ago, when people were dying all around them,” said Harrington. “The reality is it’s far from over and there’s going to need to be a lot of resources and political action to end it.”

With the CDC predicting that half of young gay men will have HIV by the age of 50, ending AIDS is not a choice, he says.

“More than 30 million people have died and because of activism and research we have these amazing tools. We have a humanitarian imperative to do it but it also makes economic sense and as human beings if we have a chance to end the suffering, we have an obligation to do that.”

Other groups, including Vocal-NY, ACT-UP and GMHC have joined the coalition.

And after several activist think tanks and meetings with state officials, King is optimistic that Governor Andrew Cuomo will include a variation of their proposals in his 2014 State of the State in January. Doing so would send a message to other states.

If the crisis were to come full circle and end as a pandemic in the city where it first gained infamy, the implications globally would be huge, says Simon Bland, director of the New York Office of UNAIDS.

“How do we ensure that the complacency doesn’t set in? I think that if states like New York can take it that last lap, it can really provide this bellwether to say that it can be done.”

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LGBT Immigrants Face Rampant Assault in U.S. Jails http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/lgbt-immigrants-face-rampant-assault-u-s-jails/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lgbt-immigrants-face-rampant-assault-u-s-jails http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/lgbt-immigrants-face-rampant-assault-u-s-jails/#comments Wed, 27 Nov 2013 21:26:39 +0000 Ramy Srour http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129115 Gay and transsexual immigrants who enter the U.S. detention system face high levels of sexual abuse, new research warns, at times leading them to decide to return to their home countries rather than stay to fight a legal battle. Advocates say that, although sexual assault and violence are widespread in all types of prisons, LGBT […]

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By Ramy Srour
WASHINGTON, Nov 27 2013 (IPS)

Gay and transsexual immigrants who enter the U.S. detention system face high levels of sexual abuse, new research warns, at times leading them to decide to return to their home countries rather than stay to fight a legal battle.

Activists say instances of LGBT immigrants who prefer being deported rather than endure abuse in U.S. detention facilities are quite common. Credit: Bigstock

Activists say instances of LGBT immigrants who prefer being deported rather than endure abuse in U.S. detention facilities are quite common. Credit: Bigstock

Advocates say that, although sexual assault and violence are widespread in all types of prisons, LGBT immigrants are particularly vulnerable.

“One of my clients, a transgender Mexican woman detained in a facility in New Jersey, after months of mistreatment actually ended up accepting her deportation, rather than endure her situation,” Clement Lee, a detention staff attorney at Immigration Equality, an advocacy group representing LGBT immigrants in court, told IPS.

“I told her, ‘I can win your case, but it will take several months,’ but because she was poor she could not pay to get out of detention. In the facility, people were calling her ‘maricon’, Spanish for faggot, and she seriously feared for her physical safety.”

Clement notes that his clients often come from countries that are dangerous for them. He cites instances in which transgender individuals would be raped and assailed “for violating gender norms”, or instances in which some of his gay clients have been subjected to “conversion therapies” under which community and family members attempt to change their sexual orientation.

Jamaica is the country from which most of his clients have fled, “which is surprising,” he says, “given that country’s image as a beach paradise.”

According to other immigration activists closely involved in LGBT cases, instances of LGBT immigrants who prefer being deported rather than endure abuse in U.S. detention facilities are quite common.

Karen Zwick, a managing attorney at the National Immigrant Justice Centre (NIJC), says that the decision to accept deportation may not be a rational one, because these immigrants may be underestimating the risks they would face going back to their home countries.

“They can’t see beyond the terrible situation they’re in,” she told IPS.

According to a new report, released this week by the Centre for American Progress (CAP), a progressive think tank here, as many as 34,000 immigrants are detained each day by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in over 250 detention facilities across the country.

According to the study, which is based on evidence gathered through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, detained LGBT immigrants are far more vulnerable to abuse than other immigrants.

“What we tried to do with this report is to paint a clearer picture of what is going on inside these detention centres,” Sharita Gruberg, a policy analyst at CAP and the author of the report, told IPS. “And what we’ve found is that, in some centres, guards were still using homophobic language against LGBT detainees.”

But LGBT detainees say they face far worse problems than abusive language, reporting instead physical and sexual abuse by both fellow detainees and guards.

15 times more vulnerable

Because of internal regulations, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not keep data on sexual orientation or gender identity of detainees. But the information obtained through the FOIA request suggests that LGBT detainees are “15 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than the general population”.

ICE, the agency in charge of immigration detention facilities across the United States, has also been at the centre of an investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), an official watchdog, into the agency’s sexual abuse allegations.

According to a GAO report released Nov. 20, nearly 40 percent of total allegations were never acted upon “because ICE field office officials did not report them to … headquarters.”

“ICE takes the health, safety and welfare of those in our care very seriously,” an ICE official, who commented on the condition of anonymity, told IPS by e-mail. “The agency is continually working to ensure these reforms are consistently implemented at all facilities that house ICE detainees.”

The official also noted that in 2009 the agency initiated “fundamental detention reforms, including the development of new detention standards to protect vulnerable detainees.”

Yet advocates suggest an underlying problem with the way the U.S. immigration system functions.

“We know that the immigration detention system has extended vastly over the last 20 years, as we spend billions of dollars on immigration detention every year,” Harper Jean Tobin, the director of policy at the National Center for Transgender Equality, an advocacy group here, told IPS.

Tobin refers to the congressionally mandated requirement that ICE detain 34,000 immigrants at all times, also known as the “bed mandate”. According to the NIJC, this mandate “prevents ICE officers from exercising discretion and expanding more efficient alternatives to detention … that would allow individuals who pose no risk to public safety to be released back to their families.”

In the past, U.S. legislators have touched upon the issues surrounding mistreatment of detainees in immigration facilities. In 2003, Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which sought to protect individuals against sexual abuse in confinement settings, including in immigrant detention centres.

But according to the new Centre for American Progress findings, PREA may have only partially addressed the issue of sexual abuse in detention facilities. It points out that ICE created its own standards on sexual assault in detention facilities, which are less comprehensive than those mandated by the Department of Justice in 2012.

Last June, Rep. Trey Growdy of South Carolina, the chair of the House Immigration Subcommittee, introduced the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act (SAFE), which was later approved by the Judiciary Committee. Yet critics note that, if approved, this bill would not only do “nothing to resolve the legal status of 11 million undocumented immigrants” but would also “create an environment of rampant racial profiling and unconstitutional detentions.”

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Mental Illness Plus Police Often Equals Tragedy http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/mental-illness-plus-police-often-equals-tragedy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mental-illness-plus-police-often-equals-tragedy http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/mental-illness-plus-police-often-equals-tragedy/#comments Tue, 26 Nov 2013 19:29:43 +0000 Judith Scherr http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129096 Just before midnight on Feb. 12, Kayla Xavier Moore’s roommate dialed 911. Moore, 41, a paranoid schizophrenic, was off her prescription meds and highly agitated. The roommate thought he knew the drill – Moore would be taken to a psychiatric hospital, stabilised with medication and allowed to go home in 72 hours. That’s not what […]

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Kayla Moore, in photo with her infant niece, suffered a mental health crisis and died in police custody. She is remembered in a community birthday celebration by her sister, Maria Moore. Credit: Doug Oakley/IPS

Kayla Moore, in photo with her infant niece, suffered a mental health crisis and died in police custody. She is remembered in a community birthday celebration by her sister, Maria Moore. Credit: Doug Oakley/IPS

By Judith Scherr
BERKELEY, California, U.S., Nov 26 2013 (IPS)

Just before midnight on Feb. 12, Kayla Xavier Moore’s roommate dialed 911. Moore, 41, a paranoid schizophrenic, was off her prescription meds and highly agitated. The roommate thought he knew the drill – Moore would be taken to a psychiatric hospital, stabilised with medication and allowed to go home in 72 hours.

That’s not what happened. Finding Moore had an outstanding warrant, Berkeley police decided to take her to jail. When they tried to handcuff her, Moore, who was also African American and transgender, resisted – and died."All of a sudden there would be these invisible people in the apartment coming after her and she’d have to move again.” -- Elysee Paige-Moore

The coroner said Moore died from obesity, drugs and cardiovascular disease. Moore’s family blames the police.

Moore was not creating a disturbance and presented no threat, her sister Maria Moore told the community at a meeting on the incident.

“When you put your hands on someone who is a paranoid schizophrenic, who does not trust police, they are going to fight that,” she said. “If [police] had just stopped for a minute instead of trying to be enforcers, had listened and found out what the situation was about, Kayla would be alive.”

Police involvement in the death of people with mental health emergencies is not uncommon. In fact, an investigation by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram one year ago estimated that at least half of the 375 to 500 people shot and killed by police in the United States annually suffer from mental health issues.

“Always a happy child”

Arthur Moore remembers the day he brought his first-born child home from the hospital and the joy Xavier brought the family. (This article refers to Xavier, the child, in the masculine and to Kayla, the adult, in the feminine.)

“Xavier was always a happy child. Whatever he focused on, he would focus on it with a lot of joy and a lot of intensity,” Arthur Moore said in an interview at the family home. “He was very bubbly and curious about everything.”

Calls for Help Gone Awry

On Nov. 6 in Burlington, Vermont, Wayne Brunette’s mother called the police and told them her adult son, who had a history of mental illness, was acting irrationally. The police chief told the Burlington Free Press that when officers arrived, Brunette came from the house “brandishing a long-handled pointed spade shovel and advanced toward the officers in a threatening manner.” Two minutes later, police shot and killed Brunette, a father of two.

In May of this year, Else Cruz of New Rochelle, New York called 911 seeking medical help for her husband, who had become agitated. When police arrived, she told them that he had schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, but did not have a weapon. Minutes later he was fatally shot in the chest.

On Sep. 25, 2012, Mohamed Bah, 28, a student in finance at Bronx Community College, was shot and killed by New York City police officers in Harlem. As in other cases, the incident was triggered because Bah's mother had called 911 for medical assistance, expecting an ambulance.

As he grew older, Xavier was found hiding twice for extended periods, something the family would come to see as an early sign of his illness.

As an adult, Kayla Moore was haunted by voices and often chose street drugs over prescribed medicines. Known by friends and family as a poet, talented cook and hilarious impersonator, Moore lived in shelters, the streets, cheap hotels, the family home and finally in a subsidised apartment.

She’d settle in a new place, “then all of a sudden there would be these invisible people in the apartment coming after her and she’d have to move again,” said Elysee Paige-Moore, Kayla’s stepmother.

Police reports indicate that Kayla Moore initially cooperated with police on the night she died, stepping outside the apartment to speak with officers. But when they told Moore she was going to jail, she rushed inside, demanding to speak with the FBI for confirmation.

Police called for backup. Officers struggled with the 347-pound Moore until she lay on her stomach on a mattress on the floor, with several officers straddling her to place her in handcuffs and ankle restraints. When she stopped struggling, officers rolled Moore to her side. Police say she was breathing then, but soon stopped breathing and could not be revived.

Some Berkeley police have completed 40 hours of specialised Crisis Intervention Training, but no CIT officer was available when Moore was in crisis, and Berkeley’s Mobile Crisis Team of mental health clinicians clocked out at 11 p.m.

“If you’re going to be in a mental health episode in Berkeley, make sure you’re going into it during business hours,” Berkeley Mental Health Commissioner Paul Kealoha Blake quipped at a community meeting.

Shifting out of “cop mode”

Crisis Intervention Training is premised on the principle that people experiencing mental health distress need compassion and treatment, not jail.

“The tactics we are taught in the academy often are not the best tactics for dealing with someone in crisis,” Philadelphia Police Captain Fran Healy says in “An Integrated Approach to De-escalation and Minimizing Use of Force,” published by the Police Executive Research Forum.

“We reiterate to our officers that they need to shift out of ‘cop mode’ in these situations…[CIT] gives the officers an awareness of when they have to change their approach and shift more to ‘social worker mode,’” Healy writes.

Initiated in Memphis, Tennessee in 1988, Crisis Intervention Training teaches officers recognition of mental illnesses, de-escalation techniques, and the principle of “diverting people that have serious mental illnesses away from the criminal justice system and back into the community system of care,” said Officer Jeffrey Shannon, Berkeley’s CIT coordinator.

Just eight percent of Berkeley police are CIT trained, though Shannon hopes that will grow to 20 percent. Most of the 2,000 communities with CIT programmes train a fraction of the force; Portland, Oregon trains the entire department.

Partnership with the mental health community is the heart of CIT training, said Laura Usher, CIT programme manager with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which co-founded the Memphis CIT.

“There’s usually a component of the training where individuals just tell their stories – what it’s like to have a mental illness, what it’s like to be in crisis and what it’s like to be in recovery,” Usher said. “Officers say it’s the first time they’ve ever seen someone with a mental illness who is not in crisis. They realise, ‘This is a person just like me.’”

Many communities have Mobile Crisis Teams of mental health professionals who respond to people experiencing mental health distress. The downtown Oakland, California MCT partners with police and is available weekdays for about nine hours each day.

Stephanie Lewis, who heads the team, explains that when police get a call saying, for example, that a loved one is agitated, pacing or yelling, the MCT will respond. First police make sure the situation is safe, then clinicians try to connect with the individual, calling the person by a name they prefer, modulating their tone of voice, and, especially, showing respect, Lewis said.

Collaboration with police has been built over 10 years, said George Karabakakis, head of Health Care & Rehabilitation Services, the nonprofit that employs the embedded mental health staff.

“It’s not something you just say – ‘We’re going to embed someone in the police department,’” Karabakakis told IPS. “There has to be a lot of preparatory work to build those connections.”

In Berkeley, a coalition led by the local NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights group, is responding to Kayla Moore’s death and related issues by pressing city officials for around-the-clock mobile crisis teams, restricting police response to mental health calls to dangerous situations, increasing mental health services and hiring more Black and Latino clinicians.

“We have to make some sense out of Kayla’s death,” said Maria Moore. “We have to make some change from this.”

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OP-ED: Malawi’s Constitution Clear on Gay Rights but Politicians Aren’t http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/op-ed-malawis-constitution-clear-on-gay-rights-but-politicians-arent/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-malawis-constitution-clear-on-gay-rights-but-politicians-arent http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/op-ed-malawis-constitution-clear-on-gay-rights-but-politicians-arent/#comments Sun, 17 Nov 2013 09:41:22 +0000 Gift Trapence http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128870 Are Malawians, apparently, overwhelmingly prejudiced against homosexuality? And what does it signal when politicians call for a referendum on the issue of homosexuality? Recently, a number of presidential candidates for the 2014 elections have proposed a referendum to decide on the fate of homosexuals in Malawi. What precisely is to be decided is unclear: that […]

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By Gift Trapence
LILONGWE, Nov 17 2013 (IPS)

Are Malawians, apparently, overwhelmingly prejudiced against homosexuality? And what does it signal when politicians call for a referendum on the issue of homosexuality?

Recently, a number of presidential candidates for the 2014 elections have proposed a referendum to decide on the fate of homosexuals in Malawi. What precisely is to be decided is unclear: that homosexuality exists, that homosexuals have rights, that homosexuals should be punished or even condemned to death, as some religious leaders have advocated?

The consequences of a homophobic vote could see persons who engage in homosexual acts continuing to face jail terms of up to 14 years, or further tightening of laws that currently criminalise same-sex sexuality.

In Malawi, homosexuality is possibly the most divisive issue in current public discourse. Globally, the persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people is an atrocious reflection of continued, and often state-sanctioned, exclusion, marginalisation and prejudice. At the same time, recent debates suggest a need for better understanding and alternative solutions.

A lack of knowledge and information, compounded by an unwillingness to understand the realities of homosexuality, has resulted in our political and religious leaders’ failure to appropriately address the issue and those lives most affected.

In May 2012, in her state of the nation address, President Joyce Banda asserted that the provisions of the penal code that criminalise homosexual acts should be repealed. In November 2012, during a public debate, the justice minister announced the suspension of sodomy laws.

Since then, some political parties have indicated they would oppose any move to decriminalise homosexuality, and a number of religious and traditional leaders have expressed similar sentiments. Interestingly, the Malawi Human Rights Commission has not made its position clear on homosexuality as a human rights matter.

As a basis for deciding how to vote, the public has demanded that presidential hopefuls come out of their shells and state how they would deal with LGBT people should they come to power – based on their actual views rather than on mere rhetoric or propaganda.

Presidential candidates Lazurus Chakwera, of the Malawi Congress Party; Atupele Muluzi of the United Democratic Front; and Peter Mutharika, of Democratic Progressive Party, concur that Malawians should be afforded the opportunity to decide on the issue directly, through a referendum.

However, whether LGBT people have the right to be protected from discrimination does not require a vote. The answer is already enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the constitution of Malawi.

Section 4 of the constitution guarantees “all peoples of Malawi” to the equal protection of the constitution and the laws made under it. Section 11(2)(c) provides that courts of law in Malawi shall, when interpreting the provisions of the constitution, have regard to current norms of public international law and comparable foreign case law.

Section 20 of the constitution affirms the equality of all persons before the law. It also prohibits “[d]iscrimination of persons in any form is prohibited and all persons are, under any law, guaranteed equal and effective protection against discrimination on grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, nationality, ethnic or social origin, disability, property, birth or other status”.

Therefore, any legal provisions that violate human rights, as is the case with those that criminalise homosexuality, must be repealed by the relevant authorities, irrespective of whether the majority of Malawians support such a move or not.

The constitution also asserts that legislation may be passed to address social inequalities and to prohibit discriminatory practices, and that the propagation of such practices may be criminally punishable.

In other words, the government is obligated to respect and protect the rights of LGBTs by, amongst others, repealing “bad laws” that impinge on LGBT persons’ equalities and freedoms. This is both a constitutional obligation and a human rights obligation.

Human rights are not negotiable. As such, politicians’ calls for a referundum on the human rights of LGBT people is unnecessary and is therefore a crafty propaganda ploy under the guise of promoting principles of democracy. It seeks to evade recent calls by some, including the Centre for the Development of People and its partners, for political leaders to declare their positions in the face of homophobia and the persecution of the LGBT community.

Continued discrimination and violence against and criminalisation of LGBT people is particularly shameful precisly because the constitution is clear in outlawing discrimination on the basis of sex, gender and any other status. The Malawian government is thereby compelled to repeal the sodomy laws and put in place deliberate policies to protect the rights of LGBTI persons because, as we have seen, such laws fuel homophobic violence.

In a groundbreaking move, the high court recently announced its intention to review the constitutionality of the sodomy laws, more specifically the cases of three individuals who were convicted and sentenced under these laws in 2011. The court has also issued a call to local and international civil society organisations, the Malawi Law Society, Malawi Human Rights Commission, and other interested parties, to apply to join the matter as “friends of the court”.

The review, due to take place next month, presents the opportunity for the court to bring the law in line with the constitution, rather than leaving matters of life and death over to political propagandists.

Trapence is the executive director of the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP) in Malawi. CEDEP is a registered human rights organisation dedicated to addressing the needs, improving the lives, and providing support for some of Malawi’s most neglected minority groups.

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Breaking New Ground for Trans Children http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/breaking-new-ground-for-trans-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=breaking-new-ground-for-trans-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/breaking-new-ground-for-trans-children/#comments Thu, 07 Nov 2013 16:04:04 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128679 Gabi was born six years ago biologically male, but dressed up as a princess and wore necklaces and long hair so that everyone saw a little girl instead. “They aren’t children locked into the wrong body, but children born with genitals of the opposite gender than the one they identify with,” her mother, Pilar Sánchez, […]

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“Half man, half woman”: a drawing by an eight-year-old girl from Aragón, Spain that shows her inner conflict before her family accepted her female identity. “The man part has a broken heart,” the little girl, who was born a boy, tells her mother. Credit: Courtesy Asociación Chrysalis

“Half man, half woman”: a drawing by an eight-year-old girl from Aragón, Spain that shows her inner conflict before her family accepted her female identity. “The man part has a broken heart,” the little girl, who was born a boy, tells her mother. Credit: Courtesy Asociación Chrysalis

By Inés Benítez
MÁLAGA, Spain/BUENOS AIRES , Nov 7 2013 (IPS)

Gabi was born six years ago biologically male, but dressed up as a princess and wore necklaces and long hair so that everyone saw a little girl instead.

“They aren’t children locked into the wrong body, but children born with genitals of the opposite gender than the one they identify with,” her mother, Pilar Sánchez, tells IPS in an interview in their home in the southern Spanish city of Málaga.

The brand-new green skirt of the girl’s uniform from the school Gabi attends with her two brothers, ages eight and 13, has hung in a closet unused since September. The school won’t let her dress as a girl, in infringement of regulations set by the government of the region of Andalusía.

Gabi’s mother and the families of two other transsexual children, ages eight and nine, who also attend Málaga schools, asked the Andalusía government to ensure that their children are called on in class by the names they go by, which reflect their chosen gender identity; that they are allowed to use uniforms and other clothing that reflects their gender identity; and that they can use the bathroom they feel comfortable using.

Two schools lashed out at the government’s decision, which was favourable to the families. But not Gabí’s school.

However, a group of around 100 parents at the school called the government decision “arbitrary” and argued that “no thought has been given to the adverse effects that it can cause in the normal social and psychological development of the rest of the students,” according to a signed statement that they delivered to the regional government.

Trans laws

Argentina recognises by law the right for people to have identity cards and other legal documents that match their gender identity. This even applies to children, if their parents agree, and only involves a simple administrative procedure.

In Andalusía in southern Spain, groups of transsexuals called off a hunger strike planned for Thursday Nov. 7 after the “comprehensive law on transsexualism” began to be debated again in the regional legislature on Wednesday. The bill had been stalled since 2009.

The bill would establish the free self-determination of gender identity and the decentralisation of health care for transsexuals, and would put an end to the treatment of transsexualism as a pathology.

As things now stand, transsexuals in need of public health care in Andalusía must go to the Unit of Transsexualism and Gender Identity in the Málaga provincial hospital.

Psychological tests are carried out there to officially determine whether the individual is transsexual and thus has a right to hormonal treatment or surgery.

“Transsexual children are a reality that is concealed by prejudice,” says Sánchez. She says she is living a “nightmare” because “I’m the school idiot, when the only thing you want is for your child to be happy.”

“They have a right to be happy, to be who they are,” Mar Cambrollé, president of the Association of Transsexuals of Andalusía, says during activities against discrimination and hate crimes held Oct. 24 in Málaga. “Denying them that right is cruel, and it is a crime.

“In a secular state, laws and the rule of law must prevail over ideologies and religion,” says Cambrollé, referring to the stance taken by Gabi’s school, which is run by a Catholic foundation and is partly funded by public money.

The principle of equality and non-discrimination on gender grounds is enshrined in article 14 of the Spanish constitution.

As he wraps the string around a top, nine-year-old Carlos Martín, short-haired and olive-skinned, tells IPS that he is happy in his new school in Málaga, where he is treated as the boy he feels like, even though he was born a girl.

“They have been mean to my boy since he was seven years old,” says his mother María Gracia García, referring to the school he used to attend, which was a “hell” where he was called “transvestite” and teased and bullied.

Schools in Spain have no protocol for how to deal with transsexual children.

“These are kids who have nightmares, who have a hard time concentrating, who don’t want to go to school,” says Cambrollé. “Treating them in accordance with the gender they identify with restores their happiness.”

She said gender identity “is an innate, immutable feeling that is fixed between the ages of two and five.”

Eva Witt, the mother of David, who was born a girl eight years ago, underlines that children “persistently assert their identity since they first start to express themselves. They draw themselves according to the gender they feel, and they assume that role in games.”

At the age of six, David obtained an identity card with his male name – one of three that have been granted so far in Spain to transgender minors, explains Witt, who heads the Chrysalis association which represents some 50 Spanish families with transsexual children.

Argentina has gone even further.

Six-year-old Luana, who was born biologically male like her fraternal twin brother, now has an identity card where she figures as a girl, and a birth certificate that has been modified to show the gender with which she identifies.

The situation was traumatic for the family, and led the mother, Gabriela (whose last name is withheld at her request), to take her child to doctors and psychologists.

The process was painful, she tells IPS, although she clarifies that her daughter is happy now.

Luana’s psychologist, Valeria Paván, says “She has no pathology or deficit of any kind. She simply builds her identity in a different manner, and as professionals we must reflect on how this affects our practice.”

Luana’s case was the first time that a state has intervened to recognise the transsexual identity of a child at such a young age and without requiring a court decision, according to the Argentine Homosexual Community.

“Suddenly you understand everything, all the pieces fit together,” the mother of a nine-year-old girl born into a boy’s body in Aragón in the northeast of Spain tells IPS. “You realise that you weren’t letting your daughter be who she was.”

Since her female gender identity was recognised, “she’s very happy” and wants to go outside with her long hair and dresses.

But the families interviewed by IPS can’t stop thinking about what lies ahead and worrying about what will happen when their children hit puberty.

In Spain, sex reassignment surgery is not allowed until the age of majority.

But Witt explains that it is possible to start reversible treatment with hormone blockers, which help prevent the suffering of adolescents “who bind their breasts” to hide the physical changes in their bodies dictated by biology.

With reporting by Marcela Valente in Buenos Aires.

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Taiwan Lawmakers Push `Marriage Equality` Bill http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/taiwan-lawmakers-push-marriage-equality-bill/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=taiwan-lawmakers-push-marriage-equality-bill http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/taiwan-lawmakers-push-marriage-equality-bill/#comments Wed, 30 Oct 2013 21:47:34 +0000 Dennis Engbarth http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128506 Taiwan could become the first Asian state to legalise same-sex and other “pluralistic“ forms of marriage if a wide-ranging package of changes to the civil code are approved by the national legislature. On Oct. 25, Taiwan`s 112-member legislature referred a “marriage equality“ bill of revisions to the Civil Code introduced by 23 lawmakers of the […]

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Two marchers in Taiwan`s 11th annual LGBT Pride March in Taipei City Oct. 26 affirm that ``I am proud to be gay; I`m not a sex refugee!`` Credit: Dennis Engbarth/IP

Two marchers in Taiwan`s 11th annual LGBT Pride March in Taipei City Oct. 26 affirm that ``I am proud to be gay; I`m not a sex refugee!`` Credit: Dennis Engbarth/IP

By Dennis Engbarth
TAIPEI, Oct 30 2013 (IPS)

Taiwan could become the first Asian state to legalise same-sex and other “pluralistic“ forms of marriage if a wide-ranging package of changes to the civil code are approved by the national legislature.

On Oct. 25, Taiwan`s 112-member legislature referred a “marriage equality“ bill of revisions to the Civil Code introduced by 23 lawmakers of the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party to the Judicial Affairs Committee for review and possible first reading.

Taiwan offers one of Asia`s most progressive environments for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights as both male and female same-sex activity are legal. But same-sex couples are deprived of legal protections encoded in the Civil Code for traditional male-female married households.

Some same-sex couples have filed appeals in administrative courts to overturn the rejection of their applications for marriage registration. But Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights (TAPCPR) president Hsu Hsiu-wen told IPS that such legal actions “can only provide remedy for individual couples.

“What we need are lasting changes in the Civil Code to legalise same-sex marriages and civil partnerships in general,“ she said.

The current push follows two previous efforts by DPP lawmakers in 2003 and 2006 to introduce same-sex marriage bills that were blocked from the legislative agenda by the right-wing Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT) majority.

During an Oct. 25 news conference at the legislature, DPP legislator Yu Mei-nu said the bill reflected both the guarantees of Taiwan`s constitution for equal rights for all citizens and the stipulations of the International Covenant on Civic and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which became part of Taiwan law in December 2009.

Yu noted that 10 international human rights experts who reviewed Taiwan`s first state report on implementation of the covenants in February had described as “discriminatory“ the fact that “only heterosexual marriages are recognised but not same-sex marriages or cohabiting partnerships“ and recommended that “the Civil Code be amended to give legal recognition to the diversity of families in the country.”

The package involves changes to 82 articles of the Civil Code section on marriage and the family, most of which involve changing phrases such as “husband and wife“ to “spouse“ or “father and mother“ to “parents.“

She said the apparently semantic changes were “substantial“ because the wording “adopts a neutral method to express the key conditions of marriage and married spouses and relations between parents and children and affirm the same-sex marriage and marriage rights for persons with diverse sexual preferences.“

The draft bill also includes complementary revisions to articles regarding adoption and inheritance that would equalise rights among spouses and ban courts from basing custody decisions on gender, sexual preference, sexual identity or gender characteristics.

In the future, Yu said that lawmakers would introduce bills on “civil partnerships“ and “family systems,“ a set of draft rules which would aim to democratise family institutions.

DPP legislator Cheng Li-chun said “the government has an obligation to fulfill the constitutional and human rights of all people and not make such fulfilment contingent on public opinion.

“There is no reason why our citizens should be deprived of the right to marry their loved one simply because their loved one has the same sex or because of different sexual preferences,“ said Cheng.

Nevertheless, prospects for early passage are clouded. There appears to be little enthusiasm in the ruling KMT for the proposed “marriage equalisation“ revisions to the Civil Code.

KMT legislative caucus deputy secretary-general Chiang Hui-chen told IPS that “this bill will pass when the time is ripe.“ She added that “the reaction I received when I asked constituents was why are we spending time on an issue like that when there is a crisis on food safety?“

Nevertheless, opposition, especially from religious groups, remains strong. A petition issued by the Taiwan Family Alliance and claiming to have over 310,000 signatures called on citizens to “support the marriage values of `one man, one woman` and `one husband, one wife“` and to “oppose the bills for `same-sex marriage` and `pluralist families’,“ maintaining that the traditional pattern was the “foundation of family ethics and moral values.“

Yu acknowledged in an interview that “there will be a long road before this bill can be approved,“ but said the decision of the full legislature to refer the bill to committee “shows significant progress“ compared to the fate of the previous attempts, which failed to enter the legislative process.

Moreover, TAPCPR`s Hsu said a poll of 567 Taiwan adults conducted by the United Daily News Survey Centre in June showed that support for same-sex marriage had risen from 25 percent in 2003 to 53 percent, while opposition fell from 55 percent to 37 percent and the ranks of “undecided“ shrank from 20 percent to 10 percent.

Hsu said opponents who believed that the reforms would “destroy the family and the institution of marriage“ were mistaken and that the passage of the revisions would “help us prevent many meaningless tragedies.“

“Our goal is to institute a marriage or partnership system in which persons of any gender or sexual preference can register and live together with appropriate legal guarantees and obligations and human rights,“ Hsu said.

“We have found in our discussions all over Taiwan that people can accept diversity through discussion and dialogue,“ she added.

“We hope that the draft revisions can be approved into law, but I also believe that their value lies in our hope that this process can open room for democratic discussion and dialogue in our society about diversity in marriage and gender roles,“ Hsu told IPS.

The draft bill was accepted by Taiwan`s legislature for review the day before the country’s 11th annual colourful LGBT Pride demonstration, which attracted over 50,000 supporters from Taiwan as well as Japan, South Korea and other countries under the themes of “make LGBT visible“ and “struggle together.“

“We want to show support for those who are still suffering or being discriminated against because of their sexual preferences and expressions,“ stated spokesman Albert Yang.

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Sometimes, Sex Work is the Least Bad http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/sometimes-sex-work-is-the-least-bad/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sometimes-sex-work-is-the-least-bad http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/sometimes-sex-work-is-the-least-bad/#comments Thu, 24 Oct 2013 08:05:56 +0000 Michelle Tolson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128343 “We are not saying that all people become sex workers, but you make more money,” Virak Horn, a 32-year-old gay sex worker who works freelance in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, tells IPS. He earns enough to support his family and pay for his college degree. It is an observation Melissa Hope Ditmore, a New York-based […]

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Russia Invents a Migrant Enemy http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/russia-invents-a-migrant-enemy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=russia-invents-a-migrant-enemy http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/russia-invents-a-migrant-enemy/#comments Wed, 23 Oct 2013 08:00:45 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128323 Growing anti-immigrant sentiment in Russia which spilled over into violent riots in Moscow earlier this month is playing into the hands of a government keen to promote the image of a popular ‘enemy’ to a discontented public, rights groups claim. More than a thousand people took to the streets in Biryulyovo in southern Moscow on Oct. […]

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By Pavol Stracansky
MOSCOW, Oct 23 2013 (IPS)

Growing anti-immigrant sentiment in Russia which spilled over into violent riots in Moscow earlier this month is playing into the hands of a government keen to promote the image of a popular ‘enemy’ to a discontented public, rights groups claim.

More than a thousand people took to the streets in Biryulyovo in southern Moscow on Oct. 13 following the killing of a young man, allegedly by an immigrant.

Protesters smashed cars, vandalised shops and fought running battles with police officers.

The Kremlin’s response was to arrest more than a thousand suspected illegal immigrants while politicians began preparing laws to limit immigration. Of the almost 400 people detained during the riots, the vast majority were later released without charge.“The Kremlin is trying to manipulate public opinion by using an ‘enemy’ as a means to focus discontent among the people away from itself."

But while the measures met with general public support, rights groups said that the riots had given the authorities the chance to improve their appeal to a public which the Kremlin fears is becoming less and less acquiescent.

Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch told IPS: “The Kremlin is trying to manipulate public opinion by using an ‘enemy’ as a means to focus discontent among the people away from itself.

“The image of ‘migrants’ is indeed a key such image which they are exploiting for this purpose.”

Anti-immigrant sentiment has strengthened in Russia in recent years, especially in its major cities, as growing numbers of migrants from former Soviet states from the Caucasus to Central Asia have arrived in search of work.

There has been very little integration of immigrants with the wider Russian community during that time and most migrants live in largely closed communities.

These communities are widely viewed as being ridden with crime and there is a popular perception that immigrant crime rates are disproportionately high.

According to data from Moscow’s prosecution service, foreigners were responsible for about one-fifth of all crimes in the city. It said that during the summer the number of crimes committed by immigrants had risen by 60 percent.

Local politicians have recently been happy to capitalise on this perception.

Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin, a member of the ruling United Russia party, was elected last month on the back of a campaign which was openly anti-immigrant and this summer ordered a massive round-up and arrests of illegal immigrants in the capital.

Prominent opposition leader Alexei Navalny too has spoken out against immigrant criminality following the riots.

The open xenophobia from politicians is a shift, however, in government policy. Until relatively recently, racism had been kept off the Kremlin agenda as racial tensions were seen as a potentially explosive threat to national security which should not be encouraged.

President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly warned of the dangers of extreme nationalism.

But the growing public dissatisfaction with the government over what it sees as rampant corruption within the state apparatus and a disregard for the problems of ordinary Russians has forced a change as part of a wider attack on target groups which the government is looking to paint as common threats.

Critics say it can then curry favour with the electorate by being seen to be dealing with these threats – indeed, footage of the Azeri suspect in the killing which prompted the riots, apparently being beaten by police as he was taken into custody, was given prominent airtime on TV.

Apart from immigrants, other minorities are being singled out as such targets. LGBT people face de facto discrimination and persecution in Russia and controversial legislation banning the promotion of homosexuality was introduced this year despite virulent protests from the international community.

A law is expected to be passed early next year which will give authorities the right to take children away from same-sex couples.

But it is not just minorities that have suffered.

The Kremlin has also moved to repress civil society groups, especially those with connections to foreign organisations. A law passed late last year forced some foreign-funded NGOs to register as ‘foreign agents’ – a term that is widely understood in Russia to mean spy or traitor – or face massive fines and, potentially, jail sentences.

Dmitry Oreshkin, a political analyst and research fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences, told local media following the riots: “The authorities have intentionally stimulated hostility against various groups.”

He added that public demands for stricter controls on immigrants – a survey carried out by the independent Levada institute recently showed 84 percent of Russians wanted a visa regime introduced for immigrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia – could prompt the Kremlin to bring in widespread authoritarian law and order measures.

These in turn could be used against other minority groups as the government continues to crack down on any potential opposition to its rule.

But popular discontent over immigration is unlikely to abate any time soon, especially with what experts say is the rampant corruption involved in immigrant registration and police dealing with crimes.

Locals complained after the riots that the authorities did nothing to ensure that justice was served on immigrant criminals who, they say, are often never punished for crimes.

Opposition leader Navalny wrote on his blog immediately after the riots: “The more of a nightmare the migrant ghetto creates for residents, the more law enforcement officials and local authorities can earn. People get away with committing crimes because they bribe the authorities.”

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Armenia’s Fight against Gender Equality Morphs into Fight Against EU http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/armenias-fight-against-gender-equality-morphs-into-fight-against-eu/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=armenias-fight-against-gender-equality-morphs-into-fight-against-eu http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/armenias-fight-against-gender-equality-morphs-into-fight-against-eu/#comments Tue, 15 Oct 2013 22:13:39 +0000 Marianna Grigoryan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128165 Europe is getting a surprise bashing in Armenia over a law on gender equality that many Armenians claim is designed to “promote” homosexuality as a “European value.” The strength of the backlash has prompted some political observers to believe it is being artificially stoked in order to build popular support for Yerevan’s decision last month […]

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By Marianna Grigoryan
YEREVAN, Oct 15 2013 (EurasiaNet)

Europe is getting a surprise bashing in Armenia over a law on gender equality that many Armenians claim is designed to “promote” homosexuality as a “European value.”

The strength of the backlash has prompted some political observers to believe it is being artificially stoked in order to build popular support for Yerevan’s decision last month to seek membership in the Russia-led Customs Union at the expense of closer ties with the European Union.

The law, titled On Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities for Men and Women, was first mulled in 2009 and went into effect in June with the broad aim of enforcing gender equality in all aspects of daily life and outlawing gender discrimination. That may sound like business-as-usual among EU members, but for Armenian society, where men generally receive pride of place, it quickly sparked pushback.

Opponents have relied on scare tactics. Social media campaigns against the gender equality law used images of young men wearing garish make-up and transgender couples kissing each other to call for a fight against “warped Western values,” and to “maintain family values.”

The campaigns also featured videos and articles that claim, incorrectly, legislation in Denmark, Germany, Norway and Sweden allows for incest and pedophilia, and strongly encourages same-sex marriages. Such legislation, the advocates added, could be in store for Armenia.

The fear-mongering efforts hinge on the law’s definition of “gender” in Article 3 as “acquired, socially fixed behavior of different sexes.” To many Armenians, the word “acquired” is seen as code for homosexuality.

Although the backlash against the law began almost as soon as it was adopted, it seemed to intensify after President Serzh Sargsyan announced in early September that Armenia was ready to join the Kremlin-led Customs Union.

At a Sep. 9 press conference, Archimandrite Komitas Hovnanian, a prominent figure within the Armenian Apostolic Church, warned that “[a] new religious movement is being formed which campaigns for homosexuality, pedophilia, incest and other immoral things.”

“Everybody should be concerned with this,” Hovnanian instructed journalists. “If we are Armenians, we have to take steps to prevent this decadent phenomenon.”

Some MPs have proposed amendments to remove from the law references to the word “gender,” but the suggestion has done nothing to lessen the intensity in the debate. On Oct. 11, one Facebook group planned to march in Yerevan against the gender law and so-called “European values.”

The term has become a catch-all that embraces not only equal rights for women – itself highly controversial for this conservative, patriarchal society – but tolerance toward same-sex marriages and any sexual minorities; anathema for most people living in the South Caucasus.

By contrast, Russia, which recently passed a law banning so-called “homosexual propaganda,” is seen as a more virtuous model for emulation.

“Armenian traditions and European values are very hard to combine. If Europe accepts homosexualism and same-sex marriages, this does not mean that they are acceptable for traditional Armenian families,” commented sociologist Aharon Adibekian. “So, this is the main reason for the approach displayed by society.”

He cautioned that the backlash against Europe has been brewing ever since Armenia, in the 1990s, pledged to sign international agreements to defend the rights of minorities.

While the anti-gender-equality campaign may seem extreme to outsiders, it has had an impact. Leda Hovhannisian, a 38-year-old Yerevan resident with a secondary-school level of education, says that, despite the potential advantages for finding a well-paying job, she now is horrified at the thought of her 16-year-old son ever going to study in Europe or the United States.

“No, by no means! I would never want my child to travel to those places where drug addiction, homosexuality and other forms of abuse are widespread,” she stressed. “We hear about it every day. God forbid! I would never allow him to go there.”

Others assail the campaign as nonsensical. “Unfortunately, many people don’t even realise that this is a result of misinformation,” commented 26-year-old computer programmer Emma Babaian.

Some administration critics believe that Facebook-spread warnings that “the wind of perversion blows from the West” reveal an ulterior motive on the part of authorities. Sargsyan’s administration, they contend, wants to bolster public support for its decision to opt for Russia’s economic embrace, rather than the EU’s.

Officials in Brussels have said an association agreement between the EU and Armenia is incompatible with Yerevan’s looming membership in the Customs Union.

“This was a carefully planned campaign, which was followed by the recent heavy criticism over European values, as well as adoption of the gender equality law which evoked fury among society, and all these factors were exploited to discredit Europe,” argued Stepan Safarian, secretary of the opposition, pro-Western Heritage Party.

Galust Sahakian, deputy chair of the governing Republican Party of Armenia and head of its parliamentary faction, dismissed the notion.

“This is absurd,” Sahakian responded. “The law on gender equality has nothing to do with diplomacy” and efforts to encourage public support for the Customs Union. “They should not connect it either to Europe, or to diplomacy, Russia or the whole world.”

Editor’s note: Marianna Grigoryan is a freelance reporter based in Yerevan and editor of MediaLab.am. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

The post Armenia’s Fight against Gender Equality Morphs into Fight Against EU appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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