Inter Press Service » LGBTQ http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 01 Sep 2014 12:37:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Arab Region Has World’s Fastest Growing HIV Epidemichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/arab-region-has-worlds-fastest-growing-hiv-epidemic/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=arab-region-has-worlds-fastest-growing-hiv-epidemic http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/arab-region-has-worlds-fastest-growing-hiv-epidemic/#comments Mon, 01 Sep 2014 07:21:29 +0000 Mona Alami http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136439 By Mona Alami
BEIRUT, Sep 1 2014 (IPS)

At a time when HIV rates have stabilised or declined elsewhere, the epidemic is still advancing in the Arab world, exacerbated by factors such as political unrest, conflict, poverty and lack of awareness due to social taboos.

According to UNAIDS (the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS), an estimated 270,000 people were living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in 2012.

“It is true that the Arab region has a low prevalence of infection, however it has the fastest growing epidemic in the world,“ warns Dr Khadija Moalla, an independent consultant on human rights/gender/civil society/HIV-AIDS.With the exception of Somalia and Djibouti, the [HIV] epidemic is generally concentrated in vulnerable populations at higher risk, such as men-who-have-sex-with-men, female and male sex workers, and injecting drugs users

The United Nations estimates that there were 31,000 new cases and 16,500 new deaths in 2012 alone. “Infections grew by 74 percent between 2001 and 2012 while AIDS-related deaths almost tripled,” says Dr Matta Matta, an infection specialist based at the Bellevue Hospital in Lebanon.

However, both Moalla and Matta explain that figures can be often misleading in the region, due to under-reporting and the absence of consistent and accurate surveys.

With the exception of Somalia and Djibouti, the epidemic is generally concentrated in vulnerable populations at higher risk, such as men-who-have-sex-with-men, female and male sex workers, and injecting drugs users.

In Libya, for example, 90 percent of those in the latter category also live with HIV, notes Matta. Furthermore, adds Moalla, most Arab countries do not have programmes allowing for exchange of syringes.

The legal framework criminalising such activities in most Arab countries means that it is difficult to reach out to specific groups.  With the exception of Tunisia, which recognises legalised sex work, female sex workers who work clandestinely in other countries are not safeguarded by law and thus cannot force their clients to use protection, which allows for the spread of disease.

Lack of awareness, the absence of voluntary testing and of sexual education, social taboos, as well as poverty, are among the factors driving HIV in the region. “Arab governments and societies deny the epidemic and the absence of voluntary testing means that for every infected person we have ten others that we do not know about,” stresses Moalla.

People living with HIV or those at risk face discrimination and stigma.  “More than half of the people living with HIV in Egypt have been denied treatment in healthcare facilities,” explains Matta.

This bleak scenario is compounded by the security challenges prevailing in the region which not only make it difficult to deliver prevention and other programmes, but also restrict access to services by those on treatment and cause displacement and loss of follow-up according to the UNAIDS report.

The war in Iraq that began in 2003, for example, led to the destruction of most of the country’s programmes and facilities under the National AIDS Programme and, according to Moalla, the national aids centre in Libya was recently burnt down.

In addition, in some countries, conflict has significantly increased the vulnerability of women. By 2012, for example, only eight percent of the estimated number of pregnant women living with HIV in the MENA region received appropriate treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission according to the UNAIDS report.

Meanwhile, only a few governments have worked on effective programmes to fight the epidemic, although there are signs of the emergence of NGOs tackling the problem with people living with HIV and providing them with support.

“North African countries and Lebanon have generally done better than others, while Gulf countries are doing the least,” says Moalla, adding that less than one in five people living with HIV are receiving the medicines they need in the Arab region.

While some efforts have been made with the UNDP HIV Regional Programme pioneering legal reform in several countries, as well as drafting an Arab convention on protection of the rights of people living with HIV in partnership with the League of Arab States, these are not enough.

“The Arab world attitude taking the high moral ground on the issue of HIV is no barrier for the epidemic,” says Matta. “The region’s governments need to address a growing problem that is only worsened by the general upheaval.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Jordan’s LGBT Community Fears Greater Intolerancehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/jordans-lgbt-community-fears-greater-intolerance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=jordans-lgbt-community-fears-greater-intolerance http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/jordans-lgbt-community-fears-greater-intolerance/#comments Sun, 31 Aug 2014 10:47:44 +0000 Mona Alami http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136436 By Mona Alami
AMMAN, Aug 31 2014 (IPS)

As the region is rocked by violence against a backdrop of the rise of radical groups, Jordan’s lesbian gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community fears that new instability in the Hashemite kingdom could lead to increased intolerance towards the community. 

The Jabal Amman historical district, crisscrossed by quaint streets, cafés and art galleries has become a hub for the Jordanian capital’s LGBT community.

“Jordan does not have any laws against homosexuality; it does not, however, protect civil liberties for people facing discrimination on basis of their sexual preferences,” says Madian, a local activist. “Jordan does not have any laws against homosexuality; it does not, however, protect civil liberties for people facing discrimination on basis of their sexual preferences” - Madian, a Jordanian activist

Despite the absence of any article in Jordanian law that explicitly outlaws homosexual acts, there have been several crackdowns on members of the gay community. “The targeting of the LGBT community is not something that is systematic, but it still happens from time to time,” says George Azzi, head of the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality.

In October 2008, security forces in Amman “launched a campaign that targets ‘homosexuals’,” after security forces verified that they were gathering and meeting up at a park near a private hospital in Amman, according to a study on Law and Homosexuality: Survey and Analysis of Legislation Across the Arab World by Walid Ferchichit.

In the last few years, a few arrests have been made on the margin of private parties. Most of the arrests were made under the vaguely worded indecency law and the need to “respect the values of the Arab and Islamic nation”, although the arrests were rarely followed by formal charges.

The Hashemite Kingdom is an Islamic country, where homosexuality is considered as a sin. “Some members of the LGBT community have even been arrested for satanic worshipping,” notes Madian.

The basic form of social organisation in Jordan is heavily influenced by tribalism, which weighs on social norms and relations between people. “Members of the LGBT community fall prey to discrimination or violence not necessarily at the hand of the state but of society or their families,” says Azzi.

He recalls two members of the gay community who had to be smuggled out of Jordan to escape the wrath of their families who discovered their sexual preferences, and possible death.

Credit: LGBT Jordan on Twitter

Credit: LGBT Jordan on Twitter

“I know of four people at least who were killed in last few years for this reason,” says Madian.

He also says that while some victims have been the target of honour killings, others have been killed by gangs because they had to seek impoverished and dangerous areas for sexual favours to avoid the scrutiny of friends and families.

Nevertheless, despite such individual cases, the topic of homosexuality seems to be increasingly tolerated in Jordan. In 2012, a book called “Arous Amman” (Amman’s fiancée) by Fadi Zaghmout was published, featuring a homosexual character who was driven to marry a woman despite being gay.

Increasingly, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts are advocating gay rights and the LGBT community in the country.

“The LGBT community has been able to carve a space for itself in society, while staying away from anything that could raise its profile,” says Adam Coogle, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.

But, with social and cultural mores considering homosexuality a sin and unnatural, advocating rights remains a taboo in the Hashemite Kingdom, and LGBT activism a somewhat difficult task. “We tried organising a few years back by creating an NGO but our application was rejected by the Ministry of Social Affairs on the basis of the indecency law,” says Madian.

Gay activism has also become more challenging today due to the security situation prevailing in the region, worrying both activists and human rights organizations.

With Jordan home to thousands of Salafi Jihadists, it is directly concerned by possible rising numbers of home-grown members of the Islamic State. Members of the gay community fear that renewed insecurity could jeopardise their space in society.

“Nonetheless, members of the LGBT community are not alone in being concerned about Jihadist threats which also target secular people as well as religious minorities,” adds Coogle.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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The Darker Side for Gays in Lebanonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-darker-side-for-gays-in-lebanon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-darker-side-for-gays-in-lebanon http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-darker-side-for-gays-in-lebanon/#comments Sun, 24 Aug 2014 17:21:57 +0000 Mona Alami http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136306 Gays partying in Beirut. Credit: Mona Alami/IPS

Gays partying in Beirut. Credit: Mona Alami/IPS

By Mona Alami
BEIRUT, Aug 24 2014 (IPS)

In a country where civil liberties remain the prerogative of the powerful and wealthy, the Lebanese gay scene is to be treaded carefully.

The recent arrest of 27 members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community shows that those not so lucky – those belonging to the more vulnerable tranches of society – are always at risk of experiencing the darker side of Lebanon.

On August 9, a raid targeted Hamam Agha, a popular public bath in the hipster Hamra area in the capital Beirut. Of the 27 men arrested, “there are still 14 non-Lebanese in detention, in spite of the fact that the judge has ruled they should be released,” says Ahmad Saleh, an activist from Helem, a Beirut-based NGO, advocating LGBT rights at parliamentary level.Article 534 of the Lebanese penal code states that any sexual intercourse “contrary to the order of nature is punished by imprisonment for up to one year.” The obscurely-worded article has been repeatedly used to crackdown on the LGBT community in Lebanon.

Article 534 of the Lebanese penal code states that any sexual intercourse “contrary to the order of nature is punished by imprisonment for up to one year.” The obscurely-worded article has been repeatedly used to crackdown on the LGBT community in Lebanon.

This month’s incident was not, unfortunately, isolated. In 2013, security forces raided Ghost, a gay nightclub in the Dekwaneh suburbs of Beirut. Four people were arrested during the raid and were subjected to physical and verbal harassment. In a similar case a year earlier in the Burj Hammoud popular area – another Beirut suburb – 36 men were arrested in a cinema and forced to undergo anal probes.

According to researcher Lama Fakih from Human Rights Watch (HRW), men often arrested on unrelated charged are subjected to anal testing if suspected of being gay. “However there are no real statistics,” she points out. The tests also violate international standards against torture, including the Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Lebanon has ratified, according to HRW.

While anal probes have been banned by former minister of Justice Antoine Kortbawi, they are still used by the police, or as a threat to force detainees to admit their homosexuality, explains Saleh.  According to HRW, two people have been subjected to anal probes since the directive was enacted last year.

While the struggle to change the law continues in Lebanon, the country has scored points in terms of the advocacy of legal rights. In January 2014, Judge Naji El Dahdah of the Jdeideh Court in Beirut dismissed a claim against a transgender woman accused of having a same-sex relationship with a man.

The judge stressed that a person’s gender should not be based on their personal status registry document, but on their outward physical appearance and self-perception.

In 2012, the Lebanon Medical Association issued a directive to put an end to the practice of anal examinations supposed to detect homosexuality.

The Lebanese Psychiatric Society issued a statement in early 2013 saying that: “the assumption that homosexuality is a result of disturbances in the family dynamic or unbalanced psychological development is based on wrong information.”

And in 2009, Judge Mounir Suleiman of the Batroun Court decided that consensual relations could not be deemed unnatural.

In addition to advances made on the legal front, the Lebanese public has become more aware of gay rights thanks to changes in mentalities and the promotion of creative works focusing on gay issues.

The media and the art scene have been challenging social norms. Wajdi and Majdi, two gay figures from a comedy TV show called La Youmal, have popularised the image of the LGBT community in Lebanon. Popular TV host Paula Yacoubian has also defended gay rights in Lebanon in a tweet. Mashrou’ Leila, a famous Lebanese rock band, has discussed homosexuality in Lebanon in its songs and last year a Lebanese movie called Out Loud featured five young Lebanese engaged in a group marriage. The movie was nonetheless banned in Lebanon by the censors.

“Youth are becoming increasingly aware of gay issues,” says activist Ghassan Makarem.  Compared with other countries in the region, Lebanese have far more liberal views than their counterparts as shown in a 2013 Pew Research Centre study. Some 18 percent of the Lebanese population believe that homosexuality should be accepted in society, compared with Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia where over 94 percent of the population view homosexuality as deviant.

However, Makarem adds, “despite recent positives, being gay can still mean being the subject of discrimination, from a legal standpoint, especially for those without the right connections or wealth.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Stigma Still a Major Roadblock for AIDS Fight in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/stigma-still-a-major-roadblock-for-aids-fight-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stigma-still-a-major-roadblock-for-aids-fight-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/stigma-still-a-major-roadblock-for-aids-fight-in-africa/#comments Sat, 09 Aug 2014 00:12:39 +0000 Julia Hotz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136019 Rwandan children orphaned by AIDS in Muhanga village. Credit: Aimable Twahirwa/IPS

Rwandan children orphaned by AIDS in Muhanga village. Credit: Aimable Twahirwa/IPS

By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Aug 9 2014 (IPS)

Though West Africa’s massive Ebola outbreak may be dominating the spotlight within the global health community, HIV/AIDS remains an enormous issue for Africa as a whole – a sentiment that Washington officials made clear this week in their discussions of legislative and technological setbacks plaguing progress in fighting the epidemic.

Despite the World Health Organisation’s announcement Friday that Ebola is now an “international public health emergency,” doctors, academics and policymakers met Thursday at the Washington office of Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), a health-policy non-profit, to discuss the similarly urgent threat posed by HIV/AIDS, the subject of last month’s 2014 International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia.Uganda’s anti-LGBT environment may explain the nation’s distinct increase in the number of new HIV infections, a trend that - with the exception of Angola - has been reversed in surrounding African nations.

Ambassador Deborah Birx, the global AIDS coordinator for the U.S President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), echoed the threat’s urgency, explaining that “the AIDS pandemic in southern Africa is the primary cause of death for adolescents, and the primary killer of young women.”

President Barack Obama announced Wednesday at the end of his three-day leaders’ summit with Africa that PEPFAR and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) will pledge 200 million dollars to work with 10 African countries to help them double the number of children on lifesaving anti-retroviral drugs.

But Ambassador Birx, along with other prominent HIV/AIDS activists in Washington, seemed to suggest that distributing anti-retroviral drugs to children would only address a fraction of the issue.

Fear of HIV/AIDS stigma

While making note of PEPFAR’s unprecedented  progress in moving towards an “AIDS-free generation,” a commitment that President Obama deemed possible in a 2013 national address, Birx suggested that countries with anti-LGBT laws may have disproportionately high rates of new HIV infections.

“People are afraid to be stigmatised,” Birx told IPS, explaining that gay people may refuse to seek diagnosis and treatment for HIV/AIDS if they are legally and culturally persecuted by their homeland.

Identifying nearly 80 countries with such discriminatory environments, Birx’s PEPFAR report highlights Uganda, where the recent passage of anti-LGBT legislation and discriminatory comments of Ugandan President Museveni has attracted substantial condemnation from the international community.

“This is a human rights question,” Birx told IPS, calling specifically on the community of faith- one she describes as “there to wrap its embracing arms in need”- to respond to such LGBT persecution.

Yet beyond humanitarian concerns, PEPFAR’s report notes how Uganda’s anti-LGBT environment may explain the nation’s distinct increase in the number of new HIV infections, a trend that – with the exception of Angola – has been reversed in surrounding African nations.

Birx stressed that the majority of HIV infections are transmitted through heterosexual sex, despite the common misperception that homosexual activity is the cause of HIV/AIDS.

It is perhaps this association, Birx reasoned, that incites fear of seeking diagnosis, and explains why approximately half of all people with HIV are still unaware that they are infected, despite the tremendous increase in HIV testing capacity.

“Incredibly powerful” potential of tech innovation

Panelists at Thursday’s conference spoke about the tremendous expansion of testing capacity, an noted how technological innovation is a leading force not only in HIV/AIDS diagnosis, but also in treatment, prevention and education.

“I think there’s actually a lot going on in innovations in technology,” Chris Beyrer, president of the International AIDS Society, told IPS. “And it’s not only internet technology and mobile technology, but it’s also in other domains, like self-testing and home-testing.”

Beyrer added how “getting testing out of the clinics and getting them directly to people” reduces the strain on medical personnel and funding, two areas in which panellists agree there are great shortages.

“Technology is moving to a place where there are much more local kinds of facilities that can actually do staging,” Beyrer explained to IPS.

“You don’t have these kinds of problems with people waiting forever to get a CD4, and then being told to go somewhere else with their CD4 result.”

“One size does not fit all”

Birx, who also participated in Thursday’s panel, added that technology can potentially be used to disseminate information about HIV/AIDS, and can potentially even correct some of the misconceptions about what causes HIV/AIDS.

She referenced the “incredible work” coming out of Cambodia, which utilises different internet strategies to cater not only to people of different ages, but also to people of different sexual practices, in an attempt to distribute key medical information.

The technique, she says, allows everybody to “click on the site and find the voice that resonates with them and gives them different knowledge [about HIV/AIDS] that they need.”

“I found that so incredibly powerful, and if we can figure out how to do that and get broadband throughout sub-Saharan Africa, it would be terrific.”

Beyrer reiterated the need for technology to offer individualised options for the transmission of knowledge about HIV/AIDS, telling IPS that “one size doesn’t fit all in these innovations.”

“It turns out, for example, from looking at interactive supports for treatment, there are very age-dependent differences even among population,” he said.

“Men under 25,” Beyrer explained, “really like SMS interactive messages, and want to be notified at all times, while older men [tend to say] no thank you, leave me alone…it’s very specific so we’re going to have to get that right.”

Yet despite Beyrer’s enthusiasm for more individually-tailored solutions to those seeking knowledge about HIV/AIDS, he also urges that there be more awareness-building for those not expressly seeking knowledge about HIV/AIDS.

“One sector that hasn’t engaged very much in HIV is social media,” he said, calling specifically on Facebook, Google, and others in Silicon Valley to engage more thoroughly.

“We need that, and we would love them to be way more engaged than they are.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at hotzj@union.edu

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Human Rights Low on U.S-Africa Policy Summithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/human-rights-low-on-u-s-africa-policy-summit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-rights-low-on-u-s-africa-policy-summit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/human-rights-low-on-u-s-africa-policy-summit/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 15:38:37 +0000 Julia Hotz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135855 LGBT activists, human rights observers and police officers wait outside a courtroom in Uganda's constitutional court on Jun 25, 2012. Four activists had brought a case against Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity Simon Lokodo. Credit: Will Boase/IPS

LGBT activists, human rights observers and police officers wait outside a courtroom in Uganda's constitutional court on Jun 25, 2012. Four activists had brought a case against Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity Simon Lokodo. Credit: Will Boase/IPS

By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Jul 31 2014 (IPS)

As the White House prepares to host more than 40 African heads of state for the upcoming U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, civil society actors from the U.S., Africa and the international community are urging the Barack Obama administration to use the summit as an opportunity to more thoroughly address some of Africa’s most pressing human rights violations.

“While President Obama has unveiled specific initiatives to strengthen U.S. development work on the continent and connect it to core national security objectives, he has not done the same for human rights and the rule of law,” Sarah Margon, Washington director of Human Rights Watch,  said in the group’s 2014 Human Rights in Africa report.“Evangelical extremists from the U.S. have contributed to making society more dangerous than it ever was before." -- Richard Lusimbo

Although the policy agenda for next week’s summit has received praise for its proactive stance on energy, security and economic development, human rights advocates from both Africa and the U.S. are specifically condemning the agenda’s lack of concern over two critical humanitarian issues: freedom of expression and rights for the LGBT community.

“On the two issues we’re discussing today, the administration should be more straightforward, open and critical about these issues occurring in many countries in Africa,” Santiago A. Canton, director of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights, an advocacy group here, told IPS.

Canton spoke Wednesday about these issues alongside fellow human rights advocates, as well as African journalists and LGBT activists, who collectively agreed that the current state of both press freedom and LGBT equality across Africa is “unacceptable.”

“Right that leads to other rights”

Citing terrorism laws, access to funding, and discrimination against independent media  as some of Africa’s  main obstacles to free expression, Wednesday’s panel spoke first and foremost about the need for press freedom to be recognised as not only a human right, but also as a key factor in development.

“This is a right that leads to other rights,” Frank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, said Wednesday.

Within his plea for governments to take a more active stance on freedom of expression and provide for more internet access, La Rue stated that 90 percent of young men in rural Africa already know how to use the internet, while 90 percent of rural women, who tend to be forbidden from the cyber cafes where such knowledge circulates, do not.

“If not everyone is convinced that freedom of expression and access to technologies are important development goals, then we cannot talk about things like education and access to health, especially women’s health…we need to first allow access to information,” he said.

In addition to urging that such freedoms be integrated into the next set of Sustainable Development Goals, La Rue has requested that the U.N. hire more legal and communications personnel to defend freedom of expression, adding that the understaffed office receives up to 25 cases per day.

Yet for Wael Abbas, a prominent Egyptian journalist, blogger and human rights activist, the blame rests primarily on the U.S. government alone.

“Egypt is the biggest country that receives U.S. aid – some in military, some in development – but if Egypt is  a dictatorship, and there is no regulation of how this money is being spent, than the U.S. is just bribing a corrupt regime and dumping huge amounts of money into the ocean,” Abbas told IPS.

Explaining how the Egyptian state is “waging a war against [independent journalists] and trying to destroy [their] credibility and presence,” Abbas argues that independent journalists like himself, who show “what is really going on in Egypt,” need assistance and attention paid to the fact that most media outlets are owned by corrupt businessmen.

Arthur Gwagwa, a Zimbabwean human rights defender and freedom of expression advocate, agrees that the U.S. should take more initiative in protecting freedom of expression and ensuring governmental compliance in Africa, informing IPS of a set of policy recommendations to address at next week’s summit.

A fundamental, not special, human right

Related to this call for a greater focus on freedom of expression in the press is the need for a more active U.S. role in protecting Africans’ freedom of sexual expression and identity.

“This is a time that we have to think about how we’re addressing sexual minorities’ rights overseas,” Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, said in Wednesday’s discussion.

Citing Africa’s passage of an anti-gay law and the recent comment by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni that “gays are disgusting,” Kennedy expressed disappointment that there has been “no real pushback” from the U.S. on LGBT rights in Africa. She said a concerted U.S. effort “could have helped a lot,” and that there are now many LGBT individuals in Africa who are afraid to attend HIV clinics for treatment.

Tom Malinowski, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour, considers such discrimination to be ironic on a continent that is diverse as Africa.

He spoke of the challenges posed by authoritarian leaders, both in Africa and around the world, who have called LGBT equality part of a “Western sexual agenda,” and believes it is extremely important for not only governments, but also artists, celebrities and business leaders, to challenge such a characterisation.

“This is a fundamental human right, not a special human right…everyone has the right to not be persecuted for who we are as human beings,” Malinowski said.

Lip service?

In addition to Kennedy’s suggestion that the U.S. pass legislation to create a special envoy for LGBT rights, Malinowski is calling on his government to provide “direct assistance” to people, such as doctors and lawyers, who serve on “the front line of the struggle,” and to continue to put LGBT equality “front and centre” in its diplomatic engagements.

Yet HRW’s Sarah Margon warns that the U.S. has sent “mixed signals” on this issue, and suggests that that the U.S. government is “simply paying lip service to human rights.”

Indeed, Richard Lusimbo, representative of Sexual Minorities Uganda, has similarly urged the U.S. to speak out more strongly, calling on Washington to “hold homophobic people responsible” for the subsequent discrimination in Africa.

“Evangelical extremists from the U.S. have contributed to making society more dangerous than it ever was before…and because we have no opportunities to go to radio and TV to show our side of the story, it makes things very difficult,” he noted.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at hotzj@union.edu

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For Many Asian LGBT Youth, Homophobia Starts at Homehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/for-many-asian-lgbt-youth-homophobia-starts-at-home/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-many-asian-lgbt-youth-homophobia-starts-at-home http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/for-many-asian-lgbt-youth-homophobia-starts-at-home/#comments Mon, 28 Jul 2014 00:30:57 +0000 Jassmyn Goh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135778 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/IPS

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/IPS

By Jassmyn Goh
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 28 2014 (IPS)

To teenagers, running away can seem like the easiest answer to problems at home, but for Alex* it was his only option when his family refused to accept that he identified as a transgender male.

Although physically born a female, Alex always knew that he was a boy, but he grew up in an extremely homophobic and transphobic environment in Malaysia."I felt betrayed. It was the time when I needed my parents the most and they were not there for me. They chose to turn their backs on me." -- Alex

“One of my first memories was of my grandmother when she sort of chastised me for peeing standing up. She kept beating me and saying ‘Be like a girl, be like a girl’,” Alex told IPS.

Alex and people in Asia who identify as lesbian, gaym, bisexual, or transsexual (LGBT) often find themselves victims of violence from family members, who in fact are often the main perpetrators, according to a recent report by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC).

The report interviewed people from Malaysia, Japan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the Philippines over three years.

The high level of violence from family members was one of seven key findings and had the greatest impact on the victims. This violence was not only physical, but also emotional and sexual.

At 17, when Alex’s parents found out he had a girlfriend, they restricted his movements and took to physical abuse.

“They started controlling my movements, and Internet and phone usage. I could not go anywhere without somebody knowing where I was going and it was very saddening,” the 27-year-old student said.

“When my dad found out about my new passport, he confronted me and slapped me. He said it was his house and his rules. If I could not follow them then I should leave, and I did because I could not take it anymore.”

Grace Poore, IGLHRC’s Asia programme coordinator and the main coordinator of the research project, said that because of the violence from family along with discrimination from outside perpetrators there was no relief for the individuals.

“What stood out was that in countries that had a dominant religion, and where it was being enforced in a way where people’s dignity, people’s rights and ability to be different [was not respected], there was definitely greater violence. Whatever was going on outside the family seemed to be mirrored or reflected back within the family,” Poore told IPS.

“At the time I felt betrayed, it was the time when I needed my parents the most and they were not there for me. They chose to turn their backs on me,” Alex said.

The report also found that there is limited to no counselling or sheltering services for LGBT people in each country. Shelters that are LGBT-friendly cannot openly advertise as such for fear of being shut down by the government and facing a possible backlash from the community.

In Malaysia, the government has an official religious department where monitors roam the streets to oversee and enforce Sharia and Islamic law for Malay people. Pakistan also has religious police, as do at least 15 other countries worldwide.

“The education ministry of each state [in Malaysia] asks teachers to identify effeminate boys. They are then rounded up and sent to camps for religious instruction,” Poore said.

More than 70 countries have laws that criminalise homosexuality, with punishment ranging from imprisonment to execution.

Malaysia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka all have laws that criminalise same-sex relations. Though Japan and the Philippines do not, the Philippines has vague provisions for homosexual relations.

The Philippines also has an equal protection clause in the Bill of Rights that technically protects all citizens. The other countries have no laws prohibiting violence and discrimination against a person due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a statement on May 15 calling for LGBT equality and highlighted the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights’s (OHCHR) “Free and Equal Campaign”.

“Human rights are for everyone, no matter who you are or whom you love,” Ban said.

Toiko Kleppe, a human rights officer for OHCHR on LGBT, told IPS that the campaign that was launched in July 2013 is the U.N.’s first against homophobia for LGBT equality.

“Its purpose is for public information and education. The message we are getting out is that LGBT people are like anybody else. The only difference is how they feel about specific things, who they choose to spend their life with or how they identify their gender,” Kleppe said.

U.N. human rights treaty bodies have also confirmed discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity is illegal under international human rights law.

Since the release of the report in May there has been a high level of shock from readers about the results, Poore said. IGLHRC plans to keep raising awareness and education about the issue through webinars, cross-country and multi-city tours.

After spending six years overseas, Alex returned to Malaysia in 2011 and found a supportive circle within the LGBT community. However, he is still estranged from his father.

“It has been nearly nine years and whenever I go back [home] my dad pretends I don’t exist. He rarely talks to me,” Alex said.

*Name has been changed to protect his identity.

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AIDS Conference Mourns the Dead, Debates Setbackshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/aids-conference-mourns-the-dead-debates-setbacks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aids-conference-mourns-the-dead-debates-setbacks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/aids-conference-mourns-the-dead-debates-setbacks/#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 15:22:41 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135746 Messages of sympathy adorn a street in Melbourne. Credit: Diana G Mendoza/IPS

Messages of sympathy adorn a street in Melbourne. Credit: Diana G Mendoza/IPS

By Diana Mendoza
MELBOURNE, Jul 25 2014 (IPS)

The 20th International AIDS Conference concluded today as the first in its history that remembered not just the 39 million people worldwide who have died of AIDS but also those who lost their lives in the crashed MH17 flight carrying six of its delegates, one of whom was the past president of the International AIDS Society (IAS).

The double memorial, however, did not hamper 12,000 scientists, researchers, advocates, lobbyists, and activists from 200 countries, including 800 journalists, from scrutinising a few advances and disturbing setbacks in HIV and AIDS awareness and prevention, treatment to prolong and improve the quality of life of people living with HIV, and compassion and care to those infected and people close to them.

The IAS and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said that globally, there are about 35 million people living with HIV in 2013, but 19 million of them do not know that they have the virus. Also in 2013, around 2.1 million became newly infected, and 1.5 million died of an AIDS-related illness.

"We will not stand idly by when governments, in violation of all human rights principles, are enforcing monstrous laws that only marginalise populations that are already the most vulnerable in society.” -- Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, president of the International AIDS Society (IAS)
But the good news is that HIV transmission has slowed down worldwide, according to Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS, and that millions of lives are being saved by antiretroviral drugs that suppress and slow down the replication of the virus, but do not eradicate it.

An estimated 13 million people are taking antiretroviral therapy that has resulted in a 20 percent drop in HIV-related deaths between 2009 and 2012. In 2005, there were only 1.3 million who were accessing ART.

Sidibé said at least 28 million people are medically eligible for the drugs. Currently, according to UNAIDS, spending on HIV treatment and prevention is around 19 billion dollars annually, but this needs to be scaled up to at least 22 billion dollars next year.

“We have done more in the last three years than we have done in the previous 25,” said Sidibé, who warned that these advances are disturbed by a few setbacks that are difficult to battle, such as laws against gay people in Africa and the crackdown on intravenous drug users in Russia.

In other countries, new policies have also emerged, criminalising homosexual behaviour and the use of intravenous drugs, and penalising those who engage in sex work.

Activists and experts say these policies help HIV to thrive by driving homosexuals, injecting drug users and male and female sex workers underground, where they have no access to preventative services.

Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, IAS president and chair of the conference who co-won the Nobel Prize for helping discover the virus that causes AIDS, said, “We will not stand idly by when governments, in violation of all human rights principles, are enforcing monstrous laws that only marginalise populations that are already the most vulnerable in society.”

The upsurge of anger was also obvious in the Melbourne Declaration that delegates were urged to sign early on, which demanded tolerance and acceptance of populations under homophobic and prejudiced attack.

The Melbourne Declaration called on governments to repeal repressive laws and end policies that reinforce discriminatory and stigmatising practices that increase the vulnerability to HIV, while also passing laws that actively promote equality.

Organisers believe that over 80 countries enforce unacceptable laws that criminalise people on the basis of sexual orientation and HIV status and recognise that all people are equal members of the human family.

The conference also called on health providers to stop discriminating against people living with HIV or groups at risk of HIV infection or other health threats by violating their ethical obligations to care for and treat people impartially.

Bad news for Asia-Pacific

Another setback is that while HIV infections lessened in number globally, some countries are going the other way. Sharon Lewin, an Australian infectious disease and biomedical research expert who co-chaired the conference with Barre-Sinoussi, said Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines are experiencing epidemics in their vulnerable populations with “worryingly high” proportions in 2013.

“While new infections continue to decrease globally, we are unfortunately seeing a very different pattern in Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines with increasing numbers of new infections in 2013,” Lewin said during the conference opening.

She cited men who have sex with men (MSM), sex workers, people who inject drugs and transgender persons as the most at-risk populations in the three countries.

Remembering the Dead

In all the speeches, activities, and cultural events that happened inside and outside the Melbourne Convention Centre, reflections were dedicated to the six delegates who died in the plane crash and did not make it to the conference: former IAS president and professor of medicine, Joep Lange; his partner and Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development public health official, Jacqueline van Tongeren; AIDS lobbyists, Pim de Kuijer and Martine de Schutter; director of support at the Female Health Company, Lucie van Mens; and World Health Organisation media coordinator, Glenn Thomas.

Red ribbons that have been globally worn to symbolise AIDS advocacy were tied to panels of remembrance around the conference site.

Flags in several buildings around Melbourne and the state of Victoria were flown at half-mast at the start of the conference. A candlelight vigil was held at the city’s Federation Square a day before the conference concluded.
Lewin said that while sub-Saharan Africa remains accountable for 24.7 million adults and children infected with HIV, Asia-Pacific has the next largest population of people living with HIV, with 4.8 million in 2013, and new infections estimated at 350,000 in 2013.

This brought the rate of daily new infections in the region to 6,000; 700 are children under 15 while 5,700 were adults. But 33 percent of them were young people aged 15-24.

Aside from Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines, she said Thailand and Cambodia are also causes for concern because of their concentrated epidemics in certain populations, while India remains a country with alarmingly high infections, accounting for 51 percent of all AIDS-related deaths in Asia. Indonesia’s new HIV infections, meanwhile, have risen 48 percent since 2005.

Meanwhile, the U.N. predicts that AIDS will no longer exist by 2030. UNAIDS’ Sidibé introduced the “90-90-90 initiative” that aims at reducing new infections by 90 percent, reducing stigma and discrimination by 90 percent, and reducing AIDS-related deaths by 90 percent.

“We aim to bring the epidemic under control so that it no longer poses a public health threat to any population or country. No one must be left behind,” Sidibé stressed.

The conference also saw a few hopeful solutions such as the portable HIV and viral load testing devices presented by pharmaceutical and laboratory companies that joined the exhibitors, and radical approaches to counselling and testing that involve better educated peer counsellors.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) issued consolidated guidelines on HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care designed to assist health providers and policymakers develop HIV programmes that will increase access to HIV testing, treatment and reduce HIV infection in five key populations vulnerable to infection – men who have sex with men (MSM), people who inject drugs, sex workers, transgender people and people in prison and other closed settings – who make up 50 percent of all new infections yearly.

Part of the guidelines recommend that MSM – one of the most at-risk groups for new infections – consider pre-exposure prophylaxis or taking anti-retroviral medication even if they are HIV negative to augment HIV prevention, but they are asked to still used the prescribed prevention measures like condoms and lubricants. The prophylaxis that prevents infection can reduce HIV among MSM by 20 to 25 percent.

(END)

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U.S. Groups Reject Anti-Gay Discrimination Bill over Religious Exemptionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-groups-reject-anti-gay-discrimination-bill-over-religious-exemption/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-groups-reject-anti-gay-discrimination-bill-over-religious-exemption http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-groups-reject-anti-gay-discrimination-bill-over-religious-exemption/#comments Wed, 09 Jul 2014 23:43:51 +0000 Julia Hotz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135463 President Barack Obama is expected to issue an executive order on employment discrimination in coming weeks. Credit: Bigstock

President Barack Obama is expected to issue an executive order on employment discrimination in coming weeks. Credit: Bigstock

By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Jul 9 2014 (IPS)

Civil rights groups across the United States have withdrawn their support from a major legislative proposal that would outlaw workplace discrimination against sexual minorities, warning that recent legal developments could exempt companies on religious grounds.

Five major legal advocacy groups are arguing that the legislation, known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), does not allow for total workplace protection. Rather, it “provides religiously affiliated organizations – including hospitals, nursing homes and universities – with a blank check to engage in workplace discrimination against LGBT people,” the groups note in a joint statement released Tuesday.“[LGBT people] want to be judged in the same way any other employee is judged: Can we do the work? If we can, we should be free from discriminatory treatment that targets us because of who we are.” -- Kate Kendell

Previously, the groups, which include the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and prominent gay rights organisations, had supported ENDA. But their turnaround comes a week after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a contentious decision, known as Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which allows private companies to withhold contraceptive coverage from their employees based on religious preferences.

“What we’ve seen in last week’s Supreme Court decision is a really concerted effort on the part of LGBT opponents to broadly endorse rights to discriminate,” Ian Thompson, a Washington representative of the ACLU, told IPS.

It is “unacceptable”, he noted, to “allow taxpayer-funded discrimination under the clause of religious exemption.”

It is significant to note that this religious exemption clause has always been included within ENDA. However, while the clause has long been a controversial component of the legislation, it is the provocative nature of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling that has encouraged legal advocacy groups to reject ENDA entirely.

Lucas Rivers, a prominent LGBT activist working in the U.S government, told IPS that “strong withdrawal [from ENDA] in the wake of the Hobby Lobby decision is the right move, as the Supreme Court’s decision has opened up doors to employment discrimination, whether it be women and their rights or gays and their rights.”

Yet other organisations have been voicing opposition to ENDA for much longer.

“We have been disturbed by the exemption in ENDA for years, and that concern has been very public,” Kate Kendell of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), an advocacy group, told IPS.

Kendell also notes that “[the NCLR] has received unanimous expressions of support from [the LGBT community]. Our community is bright – they get that the provision in ENDA would provide those who oppose our equality a license to discriminate.”

Kendell is careful to note that her organisation’s dispute is not with the legitimacy of religious belief.

“Our nation respects and accommodates a wide variety of religious faiths, a quality we fully embrace. But it is not acceptable for some to use religion as a bludgeon to do harm to others,” she says.

“[LGBT people] want to be judged in the same way any other employee is judged: Can we do the work? If we can, we should be free from discriminatory treatment that targets us because of who we are.”

Kendall says she’s uncertain about the future of ENDA, but expresses confidence that a stronger bill can eventually be drawn up.

“We don’t know what we can get unless we fight for it,” she says. “If we combine forces and lobby for better language, I have no doubt we can get a better bill.”

Urgent need

Still, some prominent groups do remain committed to ENDA.

The Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBT rights group, stated on Wednesday that it will continue to support ENDA for a “very simple reason … it will guarantee millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in all 50 states explicit, reliable protections from discrimination in the workplace.”

In regards to the bill’s religious exemption clause, the group says it is urging its allies in Congress to recognise that LGBT people “do not have the luxury of waiting for these protections,” while an “urgent need” for equality persists.

Meanwhile, some U.S. legislators have been looking for ways to directly counter the recent Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. New legislation, announced Wednesday, would seek to expressly forbid private companies from using religious exemption to deny employee contraception “or any other vital health service required by federal law”.

Although the new bill would have no direct impact on workplace discrimination for LGBT individuals, the proposal’s sponsors see it as a significant step towards separating religious preferences from employees’ fundamental rights.

“Particularly in light of the recent Hobby Lobby decision, we must be more careful than ever to ensure that religious liberty, a cherished American value intended to shield individuals from government interference, is not wielded as a sword against employees who may not share their employers’ religious beliefs,” Jerrold Nadler, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and one of the new bill’s co-sponsors, said Wednesday.

President Barack Obama is expected to issue an executive order on employment discrimination in coming weeks. As such, a similar fight is now brewing of that mandate’s details.

On Tuesday, a group of 100 progressive religious leaders urged the president to exclude any religious exemption from the order. Instead, the groups called on the president to remain committed to the principle of equality under the Constitution.

“If contractors were allowed to selectively follow employment or other laws according to their religious beliefs, we would quickly create an untenable morass of legal disputes,” the letter states.

“Furthermore, if selective exemptions to the executive order were permitted, the people who would suffer most would be the people who always suffer most when discrimination is allowed: the individuals and communities that are already marginalized.”

Some civil rights groups have applauded the letter. The ACLU’s Thompson told IPS that the move was “incredibly important” in the context of the broader equality debate.

“It shows is that religious leaders and faith organisations do not speak with simply one voice on these issues,” he says. “Rather, it shows that there are two sides to the faith community, and it is very helpful for the community’s pro-equality voices to come forward.”

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Conservatives and Nationalists At Centre Stage in Polandhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/conservatives-and-nationalists-at-centre-stage-in-poland/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conservatives-and-nationalists-at-centre-stage-in-poland http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/conservatives-and-nationalists-at-centre-stage-in-poland/#comments Tue, 08 Jul 2014 16:45:29 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135424 Polish conservatives protesting against a reading of Golgota Picnic in Warsaw. Credit: Maciej Konieczny/Courtesy of Krytyka Polityczna

Polish conservatives protesting against a reading of Golgota Picnic in Warsaw. Credit: Maciej Konieczny/Courtesy of Krytyka Polityczna

By Claudia Ciobanu
WAESAW, Jul 8 2014 (IPS)

A mix of conservative Catholicism and nationalism has become the predominant view in Polish public debate, with some worrying effects.

These were the values around which the opposition to communism led by trade union Solidarity built itself up in the 1980s but, after the fall of communism, opinion makers in the media and politicians continued to depict them as part and parcel of being Polish.

Observers note that the Polish Catholic Church has also grown increasingly conservative since 1989, in apparent contrast to an opening up of the Church worldwide.Conservative Catholicism and nationalism were the values around which the opposition to communism led by trade union Solidarity built itself up in the 1980s but, after the fall of communism, opinion makers in the media and politicians continued to depict them as part and parcel of being Polish.

Last month, the director of a theatre festival in the city of Poznan decided to cancel showings of a play fearing he could not ensure the safety of viewers in the face of threats by conservative and far-right groups. The play – “Golgota Picnic” by Argentinian director Rodrigo Garcia – describes the life of Jesus using striking depictions of contemporary society, including some with a sexual meaning.

Among those asking for play to be cancelled were representatives of Poland’s main opposition party, Law and Justice, the main trade union Solidarity, and the far-right Ruch Narodowy (National Movement), all of which stand for traditional Catholic values. The Church also voiced its opposition to the play.

In itself, protesting against the play was unremarkable (it has also been met with opposition from Catholics in other countries, for example in France), but the Polish response was interesting: even if the festival was largely financed from public sources, the show was cancelled and there was hardly any resistance from public authorities to the decision. The public, however, made itself heard and readings of the play were organised in major Polish cities, with hundreds attending.

Meanwhile, the dynamics surrounding “Golgota Picnic” are being replicated over other issues in Polish society, among which the most striking is women’s reproductive rights. Poland is one of only three countries in the European Union where abortion is prohibited, unless the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, there is a serious threat to the mother’s health or foetal malformation has been detected.

Abortion had been legal in communist Poland but was outlawed in 1993 after pressure from the Catholic Church. Ever since, attempts to make abortion legal have failed. In 2011, the Polish parliament came close to further tightening the law on abortion by prohibiting it no matter the circumstances.

At the time, it was not only the political forces explicitly standing for Catholic values that endorsed a total ban, but also many members of the governing centre-right Civic Platform, which depicts itself as Poland’s main liberal political force.

De facto, even the current restrictive law is not being implemented. In a series of high profile cases over the years, Catholic doctors in public hospitals have refused to perform abortions even if girls were pregnant as a result of rape, had serious health conditions or malformation had been detected in foetuses.

In May, in an escalation of the situation, over 3,000 Polish doctors, nurses and medical students signed a “Declaration of Faith” in which they rejected abortion, birth control, in vitro fertilisation and euthanasia as contrary to the Catholic faith. Signatories included employees of public clinics and hospitals. One of them was the director of a Warsaw maternity hospital who said he would not allow such procedures to take place in his institution.

The “Declaration of Faith”, which has been endorsed by the Polish Catholic Church, is contrary to Polish law and Prime Minister Donald Tusk has spoken out against it.

State authorities have been carrying out check-ups at those institutions in which signatories of the Declaration work to establish whether the law is being respected, and one fine has been imposed on the Warsaw maternity hospital whose director prohibits legal abortions. Yet more determined measures are still pending.

“Lack of massive resistance [to the Declaration] is not a sign of approval on the part of the general public,” comments Agnieszka Graff, writer and feminist activist. “It is rather a question of resignation: for 20 years we have seen politicians court the Church while ignoring public opinion on matters that have to do with reproductive rights. The pattern of submission has emboldened the radical anti-choice groups.”

Political power in Poland is firmly in the hands of conservatives. Law and Justice, the party with the best chance of winning next year’s parliamentary elections, is staunchly pro-Catholic and nationalist, and has in the past allied in government with far-right politicians. The governing Civic Platform, the choice of many liberals in this country, is bitterly divided between social conservatives and liberals, meaning it cannot enforce the constitutional secularity of the Polish state.

As Graff explains, in this political context, those who oppose the Catholicism-nationalism nexus find it difficult to coalesce into a strong movement. And ultra-conservatives continue to advance.

Far-right elements breeds in this environment and, in an ethnically and racially homogeneous country, their main targets are feminists, the LGBTQ community and leftists (the same groups that the Church condemns). Their strength is most visible in Poland during the annual Independence March on November 11, when tens of thousands of far-right youth take to the streets of Warsaw and other cities wreaking havoc.

According to June polls, the third strongest political force in Poland is the New Right Congress, which has a neo-liberal far-right agenda. The party, whose leader Janusz Korwin-Mikke has declared that women have lower IQs than men and that they enjoy being raped, gathered 7.5 percent of the vote in the May elections for the European Parliament.

“There is no clear demarcation between the Polish extreme right, the populist right and the mainstream right,” notes political scientist Rafal Pankovski of anti-racist group Nigdy Wiecej (Never Again). “The notion of a cordon sanitaire against the far-right does not seem to have been accepted in Polish politics and the media.”

Over recent years, civic mobilisation by progressive forces has nevertheless grown, and political parties with a strong liberal, secular and anti-nationalist message have been forming, but they still lack consolidation. Faced with the constant accusation of being “communists”, leftist forces that might counterbalance the conservative, nationalist and far-right trend are slow to grow in Poland.

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Rights Experts Urge Action on Gender Equality in Taiwanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/rights-experts-urge-action-on-gender-equality-in-taiwan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rights-experts-urge-action-on-gender-equality-in-taiwan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/rights-experts-urge-action-on-gender-equality-in-taiwan/#comments Wed, 02 Jul 2014 19:48:03 +0000 Dennis Engbarth http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135335 Taiwanese women hold aloft a LGBT flag during Taiwan`s 11th annual LGBT Pride March in Taipei City Oct. 26, 2013. Credit: Dennis Engbarth/IPS

Taiwanese women hold aloft a LGBT flag during Taiwan`s 11th annual LGBT Pride March in Taipei City Oct. 26, 2013. Credit: Dennis Engbarth/IPS

By Dennis Engbarth
TAIPEI, Jul 2 2014 (IPS)

Prominent international human rights experts are calling on the Taiwan government to quickly enact a comprehensive anti-discrimination act, revamp the law on citizenship and take a wide range of other actions to curb gender discrimination.

A five-member commission issued 35 recommendations after an intense review of Taiwan’s second national report on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

The commission members from Kenya, Malaysia the Philippines, South Korea and the United States met at the Civil Service Training Center in Taipei City June 23-26.

"It is...commendable, that a country which is not a UN member state has voluntarily undertaken to adopt the standards of CEDAW..." -- Mary Shanthi Dairiam, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Gender Equality Taskforce
More than 230 government officials and some 100 representatives of non-governmental organizations joined in the review. The event consisted of discussions with the 55 civil society organizations, as well as a day-long questioning session with Taiwan government officials on issues raised by NGOs in nearly 30 “parallel reports.”

Zoe Ye of the Intersex, Transgender and Transsexual People Care Association, reminded the committee of the case of Tsai Ya-ting, a trans-woman whose application for a national identity card was rejected in 2002. She committed suicide the following year.

“The government has not learned from this lesson and has ignored the urgent desire of transgender persons to adopt a legal gender status in accord with their self-identity,” according to Ye.

The Taiwan government currently requires applicants for gender change to undergo psychological examinations and the surgical removal of reproductive organs before changes in official registration are approved, a requirement which Ye stressed violates five UN human rights conventions, including CEDAW.

Other NGO representatives stressed infringements on women’s land rights, faulting the government for failure to conduct gender impact-assessments for many of its development plans that involve large-scale land expropriations.

These “threaten the right to adequate housing for rural women and all aspects of their lives,” said Lu Shih-wei of Taiwan Rural Front and Wild at Heart Legal Defence Association.

Non-member committed to CEDAW

Taiwan ratified CEDAW in 2007 under the previous centrist Democratic Progressive Party government of then president Chen Shui-bian, but the United Nations Secretariat rejected the ratified treaty for deposit since Taiwan is not a UN member state.

Instead, CEDAW was directly incorporated into Taiwan’s domestic law through an “enforcement act” effective January 1, 2012.

“It is almost unique, and commendable, that a country which is not a UN member state has voluntarily undertaken to adopt the standards of CEDAW and other human rights treaties,” Mary Shanthi Dairiam, a member of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Gender Equality Taskforce, told IPS.

Still, “the defensiveness of government officials here is the same as elsewhere,” according to Shanthi, who is a former member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of all Forms Discrimination against Women (CEFDW).

Speaking to IPS, Democratic Progressive Party legislator Yu Mei-nu said that  the realization of CEDAW objectives may be hampered by “martial law mentalities” of certain government officials. But the convention has “provided a platform for citizens and civil society organizations to link with international society and fight for human rights at home,” according to Yu.

Main recommendations 

Chief among the 35 recommendations were calls to set a deadline to enact “comprehensive legislation covering all fields of gender discrimination” as soon as possible; establish an independent national human rights institution; prompt revision of laws on nationality, domestic violence, human trafficking and marriage equality; and passage of long-denied bills to protect domestic workers, along with ratification of the International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

The committee further stressed the need for “gender impact assessments” for government policies and development plans.

It called for abolishing the surgical requirement for trans women, as well as the mandatory HIV testing requirement for entry, stay and residence of women living with HIV/AIDS.

The panel was led by Shin Heisoo, representative of the Korea Center for UN Human Rights Policy and a member of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Shin previously participated in the review of CEDAW state reports from 2001 to 2008.

“I hope the government of Taiwan is contemplating how to implement these recommendations…” Shin concluded, “Especially since we have heard that there has been a deterioration of civil and political and economic human rights.”

UNDP’s Shanti echoed the need for action. “The government officials said they have revised over 33,000 laws and regulations. But what the world community wants to know is not what the state says it is doing, but what is actually being achieved in terms of real improvement in gender equality.”

 

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Moscow Protest Highlights Litany of Abuses Suffered by Russia’s Drug Usershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/moscow-protest-highlights-litany-of-abuses-suffered-by-russias-drug-users/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=moscow-protest-highlights-litany-of-abuses-suffered-by-russias-drug-users http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/moscow-protest-highlights-litany-of-abuses-suffered-by-russias-drug-users/#comments Thu, 26 Jun 2014 17:49:38 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135210 Nadezdha Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina (fourth and fifth from the right) with activists from the Andrei Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice in Moscow marking the United Nations International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking with calls for reform of Russia's hard-line drug policies. Credit: Andrei Rylkov Foundation

Nadezdha Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina (fourth and fifth from the right) with activists from the Andrei Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice in Moscow marking the United Nations International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking with calls for reform of Russia's hard-line drug policies. Credit: Andrei Rylkov Foundation

By Pavol Stracansky
MOSCOW, Jun 26 2014 (IPS)

A protest in Moscow Thursday marking the U.N. International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking has highlighted the ‘torture’ drug users are put through in the Russian criminal justice system.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, members of the Pussy Riot Group who were controversially jailed for performing in a Moscow cathedral in 2012, spoke in the Russian capital to highlight the plight of drug users in Russia.

Joining protestors in more than 80 cities around the world demanding drug policy reforms, they attacked what they said was their country’s “cruel and inhuman” treatment of drug users.

Describing a litany of rights abuses against drug users, including torture and beatings by police and prison warders, they said Russian authorities viewed imprisonment as a “cure for drug dependency”.“Similar to xenophobia and homophobia, narcophobia has become a protective cloak for the authorities .... Creating an image of the enemy, the subhuman, the zombie, and reinforcing that image in the public consciousness justifies the inhuman treatment of drug dependent people in our country” – Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, members of the Pussy Riot punk rock group

“People who use drugs are outcasts – they are despised, hated, accused of all problems, and criminalised. Similar to xenophobia and homophobia, narcophobia has become a protective cloak for the authorities…. Creating an image of the enemy, the subhuman, the zombie, and reinforcing that image in the public consciousness justifies the inhuman treatment of drug dependent people in our country,” they said.

“Russia’s drug policy is built on torture. Humiliation and violation of human dignity – thisis what drug dependent people face everywhere, from hospitals to prisons and other state facilities,” they added.

Russia takes a hard-line approach to drug use, implementing repressive drugs legislation, including lengthy jail terms for possession of even tiny amounts of hard drugs.

Drug users say they are also targeted by police: official figures show that one in six of the Russian prison population is a drug user and, according to other surveys, just under 30 percent of drug users have been arrested at some point since they started using drugs.

They say they also regularly have confessions extracted from them or are coerced into helping officers as they go into withdrawal in detention – a charge police deny.

There is a complete lack of relevant medical services for drug users in temporary holding facilities and pre-trial detention centres and even painkillers are rarely given to addicts going into withdrawal.

Drug users in prison face particular hardship. Conditions for all prisoners are poor with hygiene often bad, cells massively overcrowded and brutality and disease rife. But drug users are especially vulnerable.

Anya Sarang, head of the Moscow-based Andrei Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice, which works to raise awareness of drug problems, told IPS: “Russian prison is torture in itself with prisoners not given basic medical infection control, nutrition etc., and general human rights violations. But drug users are more vulnerable than other prisoners.

“For instance many are HIV positive, but not only are there problems getting their medicine or starting them on treatment because they are not given necessary immune system checks in some cases, but their diet is poor and there is always the risk of infections, such as tuberculosis.”

Tuberculosis (TB) is a major problem in Russian prisons, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other bodies. Studies have shown that a person with HIV is 25 times more likely to contract TB in a Russian prison than outside one.

But the risk of potentially deadly infections is only one problem facing drug users in prisons. As in many jails across the world, drugs are smuggled in and traded between inmates, giving users, some of whom may never have tried hard drugs, access to substances like heroin and experience of dangerous drug-taking methods.

Campaigners say that this is further evidence of how the criminalisation of drug use only perpetuates and worsens drug problems.

Michel Kazatchkine, UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, told IPS: “We know from studies that contact with the criminal justice system is associated with increased injection drug use and other similar behaviour, among other problems. Putting drug users in prisons …. is making things worse not just in prisons but also for communities when they are released from prison.”

Activists point to how opioid substituition therapy (OST) for people in custody or prison has been successfully implemented in some Western states.

But the practice is completely banned in Russia, despite being widely implemented in many countries around the world, recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and having been proved to be successful in helping halt the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Russia has one of the world’s fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemics – there were 78,000 new HIV cases registered last year, up from 69,000 in 2012 and 62,000 in 2011 – which the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) and other bodies say has been historically driven by injection drug use.

Drug use in the country is growing equally rapidly. According to figures from the country’s Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN) there were an estimated 8.5 million drug addicts in 2013 – up from 2.5 million since 2010. The service says up to 100,000 people die each year in Russia from drug abuse. It is also the world’s largest heroin consumer.

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina said only a reform of drug policy including decriminalisation would improve the situation in prisons.

But Russian authorities show no sign of lifting the OST ban nor improving the very limited harm reduction services which exist in the country and FSKN officials have made a number of public statements in recent months reaffirming their commitment to hard-line drugs policies.

Kazatchine told IPS: “I don’t see any sign of Russia’s approach to drugs softening. What I am seeing is a toughening of the way Russian society looks at marginalised groups, such as drug users, men who have sex with men, LGBT people, etc. The climate has toughened and Russia is de facto criminalising drug use and recession.”

This, critics say, has left Russian drug users in a terrible position in society. Sergey Votyagov Executive Director of the Eurasian HRM Reduction Network (EHRN), told IPS that they were “one of the most stigmatised and under-served populations” in the country.

Meanwhile, the devastation wrought by Russia’s drugs policies has been seen clearly in its newest territory. Just days before Thursday’s protest in Moscow, campaigners in Ukraine had raised the alarm over the fate of drug users in Crimea following its recent annexation.

OST is available in Ukraine and had been provided to 800 people in Crimea. But as part of Russia, Moscow ordered OST programmes there shut down at the start of May.

A mission by the Council of Europe to Crimea which ended last month reported that at least 20 people had died following the cessation of the programmes and at least 50 more had migrated to the Ukrainian mainland, while a few had gone to Russia for detoxification and rehabilitation treatment.

Those who remained spoke of having to deal with intimidation by new authorities and, in some cases, losing their jobs because of either worsening health or their status as former OST patients being made public.

Some who have fled the peninsula described the fear and desperation among drug users still there.

Speaking at an event organised by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine in Kiev earlier this month, one woman, Oksana, who left the day after her OST treatment had stopped, said:  “I might have died if I had stayed in Crimea.

“I am disabled, I have had a stroke and I know very well how it feels to be left without therapy and help. Those who could not leave Crimea are in terrible conditions. Some of them are already dead, others have chosen suicide.”

There is little hope that things in Crimea will change any time in the foreseeable future. Earlier this month, Sergei Donich, deputy prime minister in the Crimean government, told local media that OST was ineffective and was being pushed by pharmaceutical firms who stood to gain from it.

Kazatchine described the situation on the peninsula as a “tragedy”, adding that it was unlikely there would not be more deaths among drug users.

He told IPS: “Evidence shows that OST reduces mortality, it prevents overdoses among drug users. I think it is inevitable that [with no more OST] more drug users will die.”

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Gay Fiestas Highlight Divisions in Cuba’s LGBTI Communityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/gay-fiestas-highlight-divisions-in-cubas-lgbti-community/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gay-fiestas-highlight-divisions-in-cubas-lgbti-community http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/gay-fiestas-highlight-divisions-in-cubas-lgbti-community/#comments Sat, 21 Jun 2014 03:02:44 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135106 Drag Queen Mojito, one of the drinks on the menu at the La Vaca Rosada bar in Varadero, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Drag Queen Mojito, one of the drinks on the menu at the La Vaca Rosada bar in Varadero, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Jun 21 2014 (IPS)

Two men kiss each other while two women dance together without making other clients feel uncomfortable at the prívate club Humboldt 67, one of the venues seeking to cash in on an untapped market by fulfilling the unmet demand for bas, restaurants and other recreational spaces for the LGBTI community in the Cuban capital.

“Gay fiestas”, which until just a few years ago were illegal and generally ended in police raids, are now scheduled regularly at both state-run and prívate establishments that form part of the flourishing night life in this Caribbean island nation.

But activists warn of the danger that the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersexual) community’s newfound freedom to gather could bring segregation of non-heterosexuals and the formation of ghettos within this diverse collective.

“Olaces where LGBTI people can express themselves freely and without pressure are necessary,” Isbel Díaz, an activist with Proyecto Arcoíris (Rainbow Project), which defends sexual rights, told IPS.

Bt she said these venues aren’t likely to help combat homophobia because they are recreational spaces, rather than platforms for activism.

“They don’t arise autonomously from the LGBTI community but are an attempt to cash in on the legend that the ‘pink market’ is prosperous,” Yasmín Portales, another member of Proyecto Arcoiris, told IPS.

Portales said the police harassment has been reduced. But she added that there is a growing public backlash against clubs that some people feel are “indecent.”

“We went from repression in the name of illegality to legalisation and visibility, but without a broad public debate or discussion,” the activist said.

Independent cultural projects like El Divino and Los Dioses del Olimpo organise shows and performances targeting the LGBTI community in different state-run cabarets in the capital.

The shows draw a diverse public. But what they have in common is that they can afford the entrance price of beween three and five CUCs (a currency equivalent to one dollar) in a country where the average monthly salary of a public employee is 20 dollars and the government employs over 80 percent of the workforce.

Almost till dawn, the audience enjoys the shows with DJs, popular singers, drag artists and erotic dancers.

Because of the lack of spaces for promoting and publicising the shows, the organisers rely on text messages, flyers handed out on the streets, or word of mouth advertising.

Other bars, discotheques and restaurants declare themselves “gay friendly”.

The state-run Escaleras al Cielo is one of the most popular lesbian bars, while the prívate Le Chansonier and Esencia Habana have special “sexual diversity” nights.

Options are opening up, although fewer, even outside of the capital.“We went from repression in the name of illegality to legalisation and visibility, but without a broad public debate or discussion.” – Cuban activist Yasmín Portales

For example, La Vaca Rosada is a very popular prívate bar-restaurant in the coastal tourist resort of Varadero, 150 km east of Havana.

“Although it is a tourist area, this is still basically a rural town and there aren’t as many gay venues as in Havana,” Ever Cano, the owner of the bar-restaurant, told IPS. He explained that he had to start out by sensitising his 14 employees with regard to respecting all different kinds of people and couples.

Cano describes his locale, which operates on the rooftop terrace of his home, as gay friendly. The pop decor is clearly gay-themed, with coasters printed with messages against homophobia and a menu offering drinks with names like “Drag Queen Mojito” and “Vodka Travesti”.

“I come from a generation that suffered a lot because of the many ways gays were mistreated in Cuba,” said the 52-year-old businessman, who is also a tour operator in a state agency. “I was fired from my job and kicked out of high school because of my sexual orientation. Today I’m happy to be able to talk openly about what used to be a taboo issue.”

Cuban culture is heavily machista, sexist and homophobic, and verbal and even physical attacks against LGBTI people were common in public in the first decades after the 1959 revolution.

Institutionalised discrimination has been gradually phased out since the early 1990s, when homosexuality was decriminalised. But activists say the police still frequently fine non-heterosexuals under the charge of “public scandal” if they are effusive when out in public.

A study on Cuban cross-dressers, published in 2011 by journalist Marta María Ramírez, says the first wave of “gay fiestas” occurred between 1994 and 1997, when they were organised as clandestine affairs in open spaces, fields or car parks on the outskirts of Havana. The police were always on the lookout, she reported.

“Although they were not exactly illegal, different pretexts were used to clamp down on them. But they emerged again around 2004 and 2005, very sporadically and isolated both in time and space,” the reporter wrote in the blog TransCuba.

A campaign in favour of respect for freedom of sexual orientation and gender identity carried out since 2007 by the governmental National Sex Education Centre (CENESEX) brought greater visibility to the LGBTI community and gave a boost to some demands.

In 2010, CENESEX reached an agreement with the Ministry of Culture for regular performances by drag artists in the Las Vegas cabaret in the capital, which promote safe sex and prevention of sexually transmitted infections.

Las Vegas hostesses Margot and Imperio – the stage names of cross-dressers Riuber Alarcón and Abraham Bueno – sprinkle messages on condom use in the shows they present.

Statistics on the LGBTI community in Cuba are scarce. But in a 2011 survey on HIV/AIDS prevention conducted by the national statistics office, ONEI, 6.3 percent of male respondents between the ages of 12 and 49 said they had had sex with other men. Of them, 49.6 percent reported that they had a stable partner.

The survey also indicated that 80 percent of those living with HIV in Cuba are men, and that 86 percent of HIV-positive men have sex with other men.

Male and transgender prostitution are common in these venues, where sex tourism is also growing, catering to mainly older gay foreign men who come to this country to have sex with other men.

Alberto Roque, a medical doctor and gay activist, identified other kinds of latent discrimination in the growing number of gathering places for the LGBTI community, which he said were frequented by predominantly white gay men of means, while lesbians and transsexuals were less visible.

Black feminist Anabelle Mitjans created the Project Motivito, for lesbians and transgender persons who can’t afford to go to night clubs. The initiative organises parties and events for non-heterosexuals in prívate homes and public spaces, which are free of charge.

“The gay world is becoming a hard to afford space of capitalist consumption, like a ghetto where lesbians aren’t a source of profit,” Mitjans, a university professor who identified herself as “queer”, told IPS.

Mitijans defends the need for LGBTI venues, but she also hopes for a society where she and her partner can go out and have a good time, without suffering discrimination, anywhere they please.

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U.S. Looking to Make LGBT Rights a Foreign Policy Priorityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/u-s-looking-make-lgbt-rights-foreign-policy-priority/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-looking-make-lgbt-rights-foreign-policy-priority http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/u-s-looking-make-lgbt-rights-foreign-policy-priority/#comments Wed, 18 Jun 2014 00:06:32 +0000 Michelle Tullo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135056 By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, Jun 18 2014 (IPS)

New legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Congress that would make the rights of sexual minorities a foreign policy priority for the United States.

The bill, called the International Human Rights Defense Act, would direct U.S. diplomats to devise a global strategy for preventing and responding to violence against the LGBT community. It would also create a special envoy within the U.S. State Department who would be tasked with coordinating related policies across the U.S. federal government.

“For the United States to hold true to our commitment to defending the human rights of all people around the world, we must stand with the LGBT community in their struggle for recognition and equality everywhere,” Senator Ed Markey, the bill’s lead sponsor, said in a statement.

Currently, having homosexual relations is illegal in 77 countries. In another five countries, simply being identified as a sexual minority is punishable by death.

The issue came into sharp international focus in February, when Uganda made “aggravated homosexuality” punishable by life in prison, enacting a watered-down version of a law first proposed in 2009 despite widespread condemnation by other governments.

“From when the law tabled in 2009 to today, the cases [of people affected] numbers around 100,” Nikki Mawanda, a transgender Uganda LGBT activist, told IPS.

“These cases vary from imprisonment to evictions, death cases … attempted murder, suicide. And right now as I speak there are more than 108 LGBT refugees from Uganda living in Kenya.”

Mawanda spoke during a press call Tuesday sponsored by American Jewish World Service (AJWS), a humanitarian group.

As elsewhere, the new Ugandan law could now be impacting on broader public health. Fear of imprisonment is now reportedly preventing many LGBT people from seeking health services in the country, as anyone providing such services to sexual minorities in Uganda is considered guilty.

“There’s 1.5 million LGBT [people] who are documented to be not accessing retro-viral AIDS treatment,” Mawanda says. “Will they stop going to clinics? Will clinics stop being there?”

Mawanda sought asylum in the United States earlier this year. But he said that doing so is not an option for many others, because procuring a visa often requires family ties and sufficient economic status.

Meanwhile, Washington has taken a hard rhetorical line in response to the Ugandan legislation. But many activists feel there has been little substantive impact.

“The U.S. has taken a comprehensive review of the Uganda-U.S. relationship and aid,” Ruth Messenger, AJWS’s president, said Tuesday. “We support the U.S. government for taking a serious look at this and the results of the review should be released soon by the U.S. Department of State.”

Extreme pressure
Even in countries without repressive laws like Uganda’s, psychological and physical violence against LGBT people continues to take place.

“It might surprise some people to hear about the situation in Thailand, thought of as a friendly haven for gay travellers from all over the world. But society is not accepting of gay and LGBT people,” Sattara ‘Tao’ Hattirat, a lesbian Thai activist, said on Tuesday’s call.

“Despite being in the capital city, from a middle-class family, I was made to feel that my sexuality and identity are wrong, that I did something wrong in a past life to deserve this.”

Hittirat said that many sexual minorities in Thailand experience “extreme pressure” within their families, with many being forced to marry. Such a situation, she said, leads to high rates of depression and suicide.

Thus far, the Thai LGBT community has received little assistance from the government. Hittarat says there have been no anti-discrimination laws passed, and warns that the state has little understanding of the concept of a hate crime.

“There are incidents [of hate crimes], but the situation is not well documented,” she told IPS. “There are cases of rape of lesbians, butch lesbians in particular, and cases when families chain their children in the house … Many cases exist but are not publicly reflected in numbers.”

Meanwhile, the recent government coup in Bangkok has only made the situation worse.

“It’s destroying democratic processes to the core,” Hittarat say, “making it impossible for human rights, including LGBT rights, to move forward at this point.”

U.S. protections
Meanwhile, the United States has recently stepped up action on domesticLGBT rights, as well. Just this week, President Barack Obama announced his intention to sign an executive order ending discrimination against LGBT workers by federal contractors, seen by advocates as the most significant such move ever taken by a president.

“It’s been estimated that one in five people in the labour force work for a federal contractor, so there will be some people in all 50 states that will have some protection against discrimination from this executive order,” Ian Thompson, a legislative representative with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a watchdog group, told IPS.

“In over half the country, there are no explicit state-wide protections against LGBT discrimination. That makes an executive order like this all the more important.”

Still, Thompson says, Obama’s executive order does not do away with the need for the U.S. Congress to pass basic civil rights protections for sexual minorities in the United States. Executive orders, after all, can be undone entirely at the whim of a subsequent president.

A 2011 study by the Williams Institute, at the UCLA School of Law, found that one in four LGBT employees in the United States had reported being discriminated against during the previous half decade.

The study found discrimination against transgender people was even higher. Some 78 percent of transgender respondents reported harassment or mistreatment because of their gender identity, while 47 percent said they had been discriminated against in hiring, promotion or job retention.

This discrimination has significant results. Simply in terms of economics, high rates of poverty and unemployment have been documented among the transgender community.

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Costa Rica Holds Out Hope for LGBT Rights in Central Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/costa-rica-holds-out-hope-for-lgbt-rights-in-central-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=costa-rica-holds-out-hope-for-lgbt-rights-in-central-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/costa-rica-holds-out-hope-for-lgbt-rights-in-central-america/#comments Thu, 12 Jun 2014 20:53:50 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134967 to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia  and Transphobia. Participants included President Luis Guillermo Solís, second from the top, and activist Marco Castillo, bottom. Credit: Roberto Carlos Sánchez/Presidencia de Costa Rica

to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Participants included President Luis Guillermo Solís, second from the top, and activist Marco Castillo, bottom. Credit: Roberto Carlos Sánchez/Presidencia de Costa Rica

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Jun 12 2014 (IPS)

Grey-haired gay activist Marco Castillo and his partner Rodrigo Campos are about to enjoy equal health care rights. For the first time in Costa Rica, and in Central America as a whole, homosexual couples will enjoy the same access to public health services as heterosexuals.

The decision by Costa Rica’s social security system to extend medical benefits to same-sex couples came just after centre-left President Luis Guillermo Solís, who took office May 8, sent out a strong signal against homophobia by having the rainbow flag raised at the presidential palace.

Castillo and Campos are just one illustration of the inequality that marks a region plagued by discrimination against sexual minorities. Although Castillo, 70, has been enrolled in the social security system for a large part of his life, he has never been able to provide his partner with health coverage because their relationship was not recognised by the state.

The good news for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community came on May 22, when the social security institute (CCSS), which runs the country’s public hospitals and social security system, approved a reform that grants same-sex couples the same medical benefits and hospital visitation rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples.

The reform is to go into effect in August. To qualify, same-sex couples will have to prove that they have been living together for at least three years.

The next step that is expected shortly is CCSS board approval of equal pension rights for same-sex couples.

“This is an important step in achieving our rights, a result of growing social awareness of our problems,” Castillo told IPS. “It doesn’t mean we have gained all our rights, but it does show that we have begun to move in that direction.”

Castillo, a lawyer who heads the Diversity Movement, which fights for the rights of LGBT persons, plans to sign up his currently unemployed partner for social security health insurance as soon as possible.

There have been other indications as well of a new openness in this mainly Catholic country of 4.5 million people. The government of Solís, from the centre-left Citizen Action Party (PAC), has shown signs that it plans to take up the cause of sexual diversity.

The situation in the rest of the countries of Central America is less encouraging, where discrimination, and even harassment, is common. In countries like Honduras and Nicaragua, IPS found that the most significant advance made was the creation of specialised legal units to address the problem of discrimination against the LGBT community.

Within Latin America, Central America is lagging farthest behind in terms of guaranteeing the rights of members of the LGBT community, concluded the sixth Regional Conference of the International Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex People for Latin America and the Caribbean (ILGALAC), held May 5-10 in Cuba.

“The outlook for the [Latin American and Caribbean] region is much more complex than what we thought,” Mexican activist Gloria Careaga, secretary general of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), said during the conference. “We have seen strides forward, but also major setbacks in regions like Central America.”

Hate crimes are the most serious manifestation of just how far behind Central America is lagging with respect to the rest of Latin America.

According to the Centre for AIDS Education and Prevention (CEPRESI), a non-governmental organisation in Nicaragua, nearly 300 hate crimes have been committed against the LGBT population in Central America in the last five years.

In Nicaragua, the situation is very different for LGBT persons than in Costa Rica.

Marvin Mayorga, with the Sexual Diversity Initiative for Human Rights, told IPS that in his country the only progress made at an institutional level since the LGBT community formally organised in 1985 was the 2009 appointment of a prosecutor for the defence of sexual minorities within the office of the human rights prosecutor or ombudsperson.

But Mayorga said the office lacks the funds to monitor abuses and has focused its efforts almost exclusively on the fight against HIV/AIDS.

When asked for a comment, the office responded to IPS twice that it “did not have time.”

In Honduras, the struggle is led by the Civil Society Group (GSC), an alliance of social and humanitarian organisations that include LGBT groups.

The GSC’s leaders say it has been an uphill battle.

“We have to break down many taboos and gain visibility in society,” GSC activist Omar Rivera told IPS. “But we managed to get the office of the public prosecutor to create a special unit for investigating high-impact murders, including those against the LGBT community, a year ago.”

The unit investigates killings of journalists, lawyers, human rights defenders, and members of the LGBT community in Honduras, which according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has the highest homicide rate in the world: 96.1 murders per 100,000 population, compared to a global average of 8.8, a Latin American average of 29, and a Central American average of 41.

In Costa Rica, the authorities would appear to be more receptive. The reform of the social security system came just a few days after President Solís had the rainbow flag hoisted over the presidential palace on May 16, the day before the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, in an unprecedented ceremony in this country.

One of the members of Solís’s cabinet is openly gay: Tourism Minister Wilhem von Breymann, who took part in the ceremony along with his partner of 19 years.

And Vice President Ana Helena Chacón was asked to be one of the two marshals in a Jun. 29 March for Diversity, in recognition of her defence of LGBT rights.

The main criticism voiced by the groups that defend the rights of sexual minorities targets the legislature. In the face of staunch opposition by lawmakers linked to the Catholic and evangelical churches, PAC is trying to push through any one of four draft laws that would legalise and regulate same-sex civil unions, which have been bogged down since the previous legislature.

“In the first week of June, the committee on legal affairs agreed to send the draft laws to subcommittee, which will study them for six months,” the head of the PAC legislative bloc, Emilia Molina, told IPS.

Meanwhile, as of August, Rodrigo Campos will have public health coverage thanks to his partner Marco Castillo, who will be able to visit him if he is ever in the hospital, with the same rights and privileges enjoyed by heterosexual couples.

Perhaps it is only one step forward – but for LGBT activists it is a huge stride. Although Castillo stressed that now that this battle has been won, they have their eyes set on many more victories.

With reporting by Ivet González (Havana), José Adán Silva (Managua) and Thelma Mejía (Tegucigalpa).

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Moving LGBT Rights Beyond Marriage Equalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/moving-lgbt-rights-beyond-marriage-equality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=moving-lgbt-rights-beyond-marriage-equality http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/moving-lgbt-rights-beyond-marriage-equality/#comments Fri, 16 May 2014 23:27:41 +0000 Farangis Abdurazokzoda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134348 Seventeen states currently grant gay couples the right to marry. Credit: Bigstock

Seventeen states currently grant gay couples the right to marry. Credit: Bigstock

By Farangis Abdurazokzoda
WASHINGTON, May 16 2014 (IPS)

Honouring the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Friday emphasised progress in advancing the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons, but a new report on criminalisation of LBGT people suggests that there is still a long way to go.

“Today of all days, we are reminded that the cause of justice can and must triumph over hatred and prejudice,” said Kerry said in a statement.“The United States arrests and prosecutes more people on the basis of their HIV status than the rest of the world combined." -- Catherine Hanssens

Undeniably, a number of events over the past week indicate significant advances in LGBT rights.

Michael Sam, the first openly gay U.S. football player, kissed his boyfriend on national TV after being drafted by the National Football League; Arkansas, one U.S. Bible-Belt state lifted a ban on gay marriage; and Conchita Wurst, an Austrian cross-dresser, won Eurovision Song Contest, the televised singing competition watched by tens of millions of viewers across Europe.

Nonetheless, LGBT people and and People Living with HIV (PLWH) experience higher rates of homelessness and poverty, lower levels of education, and high rates of family and community rejection, according to the report.

“Seventy-three percent of LGBT people and PLWH have had run-ins with police in the past five years,” said Aisha Moodie-Mills, co-author of the report and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP), a think tank considered close to the administration of President Barack Obama.

“Oftentimes these groups also experience police misconduct such as false arrests and verbal, physical, and sexual abuse while in police custody,” she told IPS.

Released late last week by CAP and several civil rights law groups, the report urges relevant U.S. agencies to adopt key reforms that can improve the plight of LGBT people and PLWH. Existing criminal-justice policies, according to the report, perpetuate poor life outcomes of LGBT people and PLWH.

Other recommendations include:

• Prohibiting profiling by federal law enforcement authorities based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and expression.

• Urging the Department of Education to facilitate increased school programming on LGBT issues and HIV-related issues.

• Encouraging the Department of Labour to provide more training to officials on sexual orientation and gender identity to reduce discrimination in agencies such as the Job Corps and One-Stop Career Centres.

“Police profile transgender women and use possession of condoms as evidence of prostitution-related offenses and grounds for arrest,” Moodie-Mills said. “And, in 36 states there are laws that criminalise HIV exposure. PLWH can be charged with felonies for having consensual sex, biting, and spitting despite the fact that spitting and biting have not been shown to pose significant risks for HIV transmission.”

Further, some states that do not have HIV-specific laws prosecute PLWH under more general criminal laws, including attempted murder, assault, and even bio-terrorism.

According to conservative estimates by the New York-based Center for HIV Law and Policy, nearly 200 PLWH have been prosecuted since 2008. In Texas, for example, a man with HIV is serving 35 years for spitting at a police officer. In New York, a man was sentenced to 10 years for aggravated assault for biting a police officer.

And in Michigan, prosecutors charged an HIV-positive man under the state’s anti-terrorism statute with possession of a “biological weapon,” and equated the HIV infection with possession of a “harmful device.”

“The United States arrests and prosecutes more people on the basis of their HIV status than the rest of the world combined,” noted Catherine Hanssens, the centre’s executive director and a co-author.

“The policies that drive these arrests spring from profoundly phobic misconceptions about the actual routes, risks, and consequences of HIV transmission and federal health officials’ refusal to promote frank, accurate information about sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.”

The particular needs of LGBT people and PLWH are often overlooked when in jail. For example, discriminatory attitudes toward LGBT people prevent them from reporting sexual assaults. Despite the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA) – the first federal law passed that deals with sexual assault of prisoners.

“Justice continues to be elusive and conditional for these populations due to a range of unequal laws and policies that dehumanise, victimise, and criminalise them because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status,” says the report.

The report was generated in collaboration with over 50 activists, policy advocates, lawyers, and grassroots organisations working on LGBT criminalisation and racial justice issues and is the first comprehensive publication to offer policy recommendations to the all levels of government, from local police and state prisons to federal agencies and prosecutors.

They call for more aggressive efforts to curb discrimination in policing and law enforcement, to stop violence and discrimination inside prisons and detention centers, including the federally funded immigrant detention facilities.

The roadmap’s authors stress that existing legislation that oftentimes fail to protect LGBT people.

PREA can be amended to better address specific issues LGBT people face with in prisons, according to the report. This also includes allowing transgender people to specify the gender of the officer they would prefer to conduct searches on their persons and specifically to ban prohibit degrading and invasive genital searches.

Criminalisation and official harassment of LGBT people and PLWH are widespread across the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where the governments of Nigeria and Uganda have recently approved laws that impose draconian punishment on homosexual conduct.

On May 19, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Global Health Policy Center will issue a new report on the criminalisation of homosexuality at the Third Atlanta Summit on Health in Africa.

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Latin America’s LGBTI Movement Celebrates Triumphs, Sets New Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/latin-americas-lgbti-movement-celebrates-triumphs-sets-new-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-americas-lgbti-movement-celebrates-triumphs-sets-new-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/latin-americas-lgbti-movement-celebrates-triumphs-sets-new-goals/#comments Sat, 10 May 2014 09:19:32 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134207 Members of the Tropicana dance company animate a session of the conference of the International Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex People for Latin America and the Caribbean, in the Cuban resort town of Varadero. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Members of the Tropicana dance company animate a session of the conference of the International Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex People for Latin America and the Caribbean, in the Cuban resort town of Varadero. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
VARADERO, Cuba , May 10 2014 (IPS)

Although it might not seem to be, Latin America is the most active region in the world when it comes to the defence of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.

That is due to the maturity and intelligent strategies that the LGBTI movement has come up with in a number of the region’s 33 countries, where the level of respect for sexual orientation and gender identity still varies a great deal, however, activists from around the region told IPS at a conference in the Cuban resort town of Varadero.

“The most progressive and interesting proposals are emerging in the Americas,” said Mexican activist Gloria Careaga during the sixth Regional Conference of the International Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex People for Latin America and the Caribbean (ILGALAC), which was held here this week.

Leading the changes are Argentina and Uruguay, said Careaga, the co-secretary of the global federation, which was founded in 1978 and has Consultative Status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

These two Southern Cone countries have passed laws against discrimination and legalising same-sex marriage and adoptions.

Careaga added that other countries that have taken major steps are Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. She also stressed the progress made in Cuba, where “public displays of homosexuality” were illegal until the 1990s, and which is now hosting the May 6-10 regional conference.

In general terms, the Caribbean is the part of the region that is lagging the most in terms of LGBTI rights.

Today, homosexuality is only criminalised in two Latin American countries, Belize and Guyana. That is compared to nine Caribbean island nations that penalise same-sex acts, especially male on male.

Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago provide for prison sentences of between 10 and 50 years for people convicted of engaging in same-sex acts.

And since 1976, Trinidad and Tobago has barred homosexuals from entering the country.

For these and other reasons, the conference in the Plaza America Convention Centre in Varadero, 121 km east of Havana, is the first held in the Caribbean region. The gathering brought together representatives of more than 200 organisations belonging to ILGALAC, along with participants from Europe and the United States.

Rainbow flags, the global symbol of respect for free sexual orientation and gender identity, and signs with inclusive messages adorn the convention centre’s corridors and halls.

Despite the situation in the Caribbean, this region as a whole continues to gain ground in the fight against deep-rooted homophobia and sexism.

To explain the advances made, Careaga stressed that every country has outlined its own agenda, adapted to its specific context.

Argentine lawyer Pedro Paradiso, who has been involved in the cause for over 20 years, said the evolution of LGBTI activism has been a key factor.

“We have gradually changed. At first the struggle was much more about victimisation and protests. But our approach began to expand and to be renovated. Now we are subjects of rights,” the member of the Argentine Homosexual Community, an organisation that emerged over three decades ago, told IPS.

In his view, raising the self-esteem of the non-heterosexual population and taking an approach based on their rights as a collective were decisive, although he said there were many other factors involved.

According to Paradiso, the movement started out by empowering itself and gaining in visibility. Later it began to gain institutional status and to demand sexual and reproductive rights as human rights. It also started forging ties with other social movements, and alliances were forged with political parties and public and private institutions like universities.

In addition, the movement gained ground in international forums like the United Nations and the Organisation of American States, which can exercise pressure to some extent on governments and member states.

And to the extent that each legal system allowed, the LGBTI community has used the courts to forge paths, sometimes tortuous, towards equality.

That is the case of Colombia, where same-sex couples legalise their unions in the courts, while waiting for a law on same-sex marriage. “The process is like a long, painful birth,” said Anaís Morales of the Corporación Femm, which groups lesbian and bisexual women in that South American country.

The 25-year-old feminist activist said women are still outnumbered in the fight for sexual and reproductive rights. “Gay men are the most visible,” Morales told IPS.

In general terms, the women’s organisations present in Varadero agreed that women suffer from double discrimination because of their gender and sexual orientation, and said they needed greater access to assisted reproduction techniques, respectful treatment in health services, and better connections between the women’s and lesbian rights movements.

The first transgender city council member in Chile, Zuliana Araya, told IPS that the LGBTI movement needed to forge closer internal ties. “Among ourselves there can be no discrimination,” said the city councillor from Valparaíso, who is an activist in a local union of trans persons.

“Just because the majority of our [trans] community is involved in commercial sex work doesn’t mean we should be left out,” said Araya, 50, whose activism led her into a career in politics, in a country that passed legislation against discrimination in May 2012. “We are still in the stage of demanding our rights,” she said.

Bringing about a cultural and social shift towards respect for sexual and gender diversity is the big challenge, even in Argentina and Uruguay, whose legislation is among the most advanced in the world.

The hindering effects of religious fundamentalism and political conservatism are also felt, especially in the Caribbean. Although gay Dominican activist Davis Ventura told IPS that “there are many Caribbeans.”

The 40-year-old Ventura said the criminalisation of same-sex relations in the English-speaking Caribbean makes activism virtually impossible, or confines it to international forums, while a “mid” level of progress has been made in the Spanish-speaking countries – Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico – and the islands with French and Dutch influence are the most progressive.

Firm steps have been taken in Puerto Rico at the municipal level, while there are associations that have gained visibility in the Dominican Republic and Cuba passed the first anti-discrimination law in the Caribbean in 2013, when it approved a new labour code that explicitly protects the labour rights of non-heterosexuals.

However, there are voices arguing that there is no actual LGBTI movement as such in Cuba.

Manuel Vázquez, the head of legal advisory services in the National Sex Education Centre (CENESEX), a public institution, told IPS that “we are seeing groups that are actively asking for, demanding and discussing sexual rights.”

In the view of Maykel González, of the Proyecto Arcoíris (Rainbow Project), activism is still emerging.

Arcoíris, which describes itself as “independent and anti-capitalist”, the non-governmental Cuban Multidisciplinary Society for the Study of Sexuality, and initiatives supported by government institutions like CENESEX or the National Centre for the Prevention of STI/HIV/AIDS represented Cuba in the ILGALAC conference.

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The Long Journey Toward Recognition of a Third Genderhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/long-journey-toward-recognition-third-gender/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=long-journey-toward-recognition-third-gender http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/long-journey-toward-recognition-third-gender/#comments Mon, 05 May 2014 12:42:34 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134102 In New Zealand, where Sujinrat Prachathai enjoys resident status, she is a woman able to append ‘Mrs’ to her name to signify that she is married. In Thailand, however, she is still legally considered male even though she underwent a sex-change operation years ago. Here, Sarah holds up her New Zealand ID card, which recognises her a woman. Credit: Sutthida Malikaew/IPS

In New Zealand, where Sujinrat Prachathai enjoys resident status, she is a woman able to append ‘Mrs’ to her name to signify that she is married. In Thailand, however, she is still legally considered male even though she underwent a sex-change operation years ago. Here, Sarah holds up her New Zealand ID card, which recognises her a woman. Credit: Sutthida Malikaew/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 5 2014 (IPS)

The world is slowly, but painfully, moving towards the formal recognition of the existence of a third gender besides male and female.

“The rights of transgender people – to their own identity and to access to health, education, work, housing and other rights – are being increasingly widely recognised,” Charles Radcliffe, chief of the Global Issues Section in the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, told IPS."What is also incredibly significant about this court's decision is that it legalises third gender recognition for transwomen and transmen, and does not require sex reassignment surgery for legal recognition as third gender." -- Grace Poore

In South Asia, he noted, there has long been a tradition of a third gender. Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal have all moved in the direction of granting recognition to trans or third gender people.

But other regions are now following suit, he added, pointing out that Argentina passed a law on gender identity in 2012 that is widely seen as a model for the rest of the world.

“European countries, many of which still required trans people to be sterilised before they can obtain identity papers that reflect their gender, are one by one reviewing their policies,” said Radcliffe.

Last month, India’s Supreme Court legally upheld the rights of transgender people across the country.

U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said India’s decision officially recognises a third gender in law and confirms that discrimination on grounds of gender identity is impermissible under the Indian Constitution.

“It should pave the way for reforms that make it easier for transgender persons in India to obtain legal recognition of their gender identity, as well as access to employment and public services,” he added.

According to unofficial figures, India is estimated to have about two million transgender people, out of a total population of over 1.3 billion.

Grace Poore, regional programme coordinator for Asia and Pacific Islands at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), told IPS last month’s ruling in India is “phenomenal.”

“Not only did the justices challenge the oppressiveness of forcing people to conform to the gender binary and the discrimination that accompanies that coerced conformity, but they state that not recognising gender identity violates the Indian Constitution,” she noted.

Poore said the violation denies transgender people basic human rights protected under the constitution: right to life, right to liberty and dignity, right to privacy, right to freedom of expression, right to education, right against violence and exploitation, and right to non-discrimination.

“All these rights, according to the justices, can be achieved if the beginning is made with recognition that TG is a third gender,” Poore added.

“What is also incredibly significant about this court’s decision is that it legalises third gender recognition for transwomen and transmen, and does not require sex reassignment surgery for legal recognition as third gender,” she noted.

The judges in the trans rights ruling go so far as to say that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation also amounts to discrimination.

“What’s left now is for the Supreme Court to decriminalise homosexuality and rule that Section 377 of India’s Penal Code is unconstitutional,” Poore said.

In 2012, according to IGLHRC, Argentina adopted one of the most progressive gender identity recognition laws to date by removing any prerequisites to changing one’s gender, most notably eliminating the need for any medical diagnosis or surgery.

The Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden have also recently adopted or updated legislation to enable individuals to change their gender identity without the need for undergoing sex reassignment surgery.

In Chile, a progressive gender identity law is currently being considered by lawmakers, according to IGLHRC.

Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Rights Programme at Human Rights Watch, described the Supreme Court ruling as “historic.”

Traditionally, third gender people played a significant social role in Indian society, he said.

“With this judgment, the Supreme Court restored their dignity, while doing away with the rule which was introduced by British colonial law,” Dittrich told IPS.

The court is very clear about it: the plight of transgender people is being recognised as a human rights topic.

Transgender people have been unfairly treated under section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, another British colonial legacy that should be revoked, he added.

Dittrich also singled out Argentina as having a positive legal track record on transgender issues.

“Their gender recognition law is an example to the rest of the world,” he added.

Jose Luis-Diaz, head of the Amnesty International U.N. Office, told IPS the court ruling could improve the lives of millions of transgender people in India – people who have suffered oppression for years.

The ruling reaffirms constitutional values of inclusion and equality.

“However, as long as Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code stays on the books, discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity will remain a threat,” he added.

“As you know, Section 377, upheld by the same Supreme Court in a ruling last December, criminalises consensual same-sex conduct between adults. This law ought to be repealed.”

Last week, the United Nations launched in Mumbai, India, its first ever Bollywood music video, created especially for the U.N. Free & Equal anti-homophobia campaign.

Meanwhile, by a happy coincidence, a musical comedy about a transgender rocker, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” was nominated last week for eight Tony Awards, one of the most prestigious awards on the Broadway stage in New York City.

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Persecution of Uganda’s Gays Intensifies as Rights Groups Go Undergroundhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/persecution-ugandas-gays-intensifies-rights-groups-go-underground/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=persecution-ugandas-gays-intensifies-rights-groups-go-underground http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/persecution-ugandas-gays-intensifies-rights-groups-go-underground/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 16:23:20 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133840 Sandra Ntebi, who runs a hotline and helps Uganda’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community find alternative, safe accommodation, pictured here at the 2013 Gay Pride parade. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Sandra Ntebi, who runs a hotline and helps Uganda’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community find alternative, safe accommodation, pictured here at the 2013 Gay Pride parade. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Apr 23 2014 (IPS)

As she sits in a Kampala hotel holding a mobile phone that rings frequently, Sandra Ntebi tells IPS: “I’m really exhausted. I don’t know where to start. We have many cases pending.” Ntebi manages a hotline and is helping Uganda’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community find alternative, safe accommodation after they have faced harassment.

“Right now, some people have been thrown out of their homes, some are in jail. Every day there are cases.”

It’s nearly 4.30pm on Tuesday, Apr. 22, just over two months since Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni signed a draconian anti-gay bill that further criminalises homosexuality in this East African nation.Many activists had fled Uganda to seek asylum in different countries, while most LGBTI organisations were closed “due to fear”.

So far today Ntebi has received calls relating to four new cases concerning LGBTI people or those perceived to be LGBTI that include incidents of evictions by landlords, police arrests and mob attacks.

In total she and a colleague have received reports of about 130 different cases across the country since Museveni inked his signature on the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014 in late February.

The law prescribes life imprisonment for some homosexual acts and also criminalises the “promotion of homosexuality”, among other measures.

“The situation is tense. Right now this act is promoting violence,” says Ntebi.

“I get the reports since I have the hotline. We sit down later with the details then categorise them into evictions, arrests and assaults.”

Today her co-worker has received a call about a new incident in Hoima, western Uganda. Among the cases Ntebi is dealing with is a fresh attack on Brenda, an HIV positive, transgender sex worker in her late 30s who lives just outside the capital, Kampala.

In March Brenda was “paraded” before local media, outed as a transsexual, beaten, undressed and arrested.

“We bailed her out, she went back to her house in the village and she couldn’t even leave because people were out every day waiting for her,” says Ntebi. “They were throwing stones.”

Brenda went to stay with a friend based on advice from the LGBTI hotline. Then on Thursday, Apr. 17, she was beaten again, taken to hospital and is now holed up in a hotel.

“We’re trying to secure a house for her to rent,” says Ntebi, who on Wednesday went to help Brenda.

Around Mar. 19, the same time that Brenda was first attacked, three Ugandan men who were perceived to be gay were assaulted and admitted to the Mulago Hospital in Kampala. A few weeks later, Ntebi says, the team were alerted to a possible suicide of an LGBTI person by an embassy.

On Apr. 3 crime intelligence officers raided the Makerere University Walter Reed Project clinic, a non-profit collaboration between Makerere University in Kampala and the U.S. Military HIV Research Programme. Police claimed the project, one of the few in Kampala willing to offer services to LGBTI people with AIDS, was “carrying out recruitment and training of young males in unnatural sex acts.”

Many activists and other members of the gay community are now in hiding, says Ntebi, who is wearing a black vest from a 2006 campaign run by Sexual Minorities Uganda (SM-UG), an NGO and the umbrella for all homosexual organisations in Uganda. The words “Leave me in peace” are embroidered on the back.

Ntebi says many activists had fled Uganda to seek asylum in different countries, while most LGBTI organisations were closed “due to fear”.

Ntebi now only goes to work at her office when it’s absolutely essential.

Beyondy is the nickname for a 23-year-old fashion designer who is in hiding.

He used to spend his days sewing a dress for a client or mastering routines for upcoming events, like the second Gay Pride parade in 2013.

Since the bill was signed he has moved to a tiny one-bedroom shack, tucked away at the back of a slum in a lively Kampala suburb. Beyondy now spends his days mostly indoors watching music videos by Beyoncé, Pink and Rita Ora, only going outside when he has to.

“I like Rita’s style – the blonde hair, her red lipstick,” cooes Beyondy, wearing a T-shirt and board shorts showing off his muscular build, when IPS met him recently.

“I wanted to be a performer, for people to see my talent and discover me. But right now I think it’s impossible. Right now it’s all about survival, saving your life and being quiet, being underground all the time.”

In the past Beyondy was attacked “a lot”, and fears he’ll be targeted again now that the anti-gay act is in force.

“You know someone was saying recently, ‘if we had a choice between forgiving a rapist and a gay person, we’d rather choose a rapist,’” he says.

Activists are hoping a petition filed in March challenging the act will come up in the country’s constitutional court early next month.

According to the Ugandan newspaper The Observer, the government has filed a defence, claiming the act does not contravene the right to equality and freedom from cruel, inhumane and degrading punishment guaranteed under the country’s constitution. The government wants the petition dismissed.

But even if the law is overturned Beyondy says it will take much more than a court ruling to change social attitudes towards homosexuality in Uganda.

In the current climate of homophobia, which activists stress has been “imported” to Uganda via western evangelists, virtually everyone is aware they can use another person’s sexuality to exact revenge.

“It’s in people’s minds and even if it’s overturned they’ll still think about it.”

But he’s adamant he will remain in Uganda to “rebuild both personally and professionally”.

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Rapping to Uganda’s News Beathttp://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 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 Campaignershttp://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 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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