What Fidel Castro’s Death Means for LGBT Rights in Cuba and More, in This Week’s Global LGBT Recap

Fidel Castro’s niece Mariela Castro Espín in an LGBT march in Cuba

ILGA’s World Conference meets this week in Bangkok; it includes an interfaith pre-conference. Among the keynoters is Vitit Muntarbhorn, the new UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, whose position narrowly survived a challenge led by African nations (see below.)

International LGBTI advocate Arvind Narrain, Geneva Director for ARC International, published an essay marking November 26 as “an important landmark in the history of SOCI jurisprudence.”

It was on this day ten years ago that a group of 29 experts from around the world gathered in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta to formulate and adopt a set of 29 principles of international law as it applied to questions of sexual orientation and gender identity. The 29 principles are a restatement of existing international law which spans core civil and political rights like the freedom of movement and assembly  and the right to conscience as well as core socio-economic rights such as the right to education and the right to work.

The 29 Experts authored what has come to be known as the Yogyakarta Principles on the application of international human rights law to sexual orientation and gender identity. There principles are the origin point for what is today referred to as Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) jurisprudence in international law…

Before the Yogyakarta Principles were formulated, the only concept known to international law was sexual orientation. Right from the Toonen decision of the Human Rights Committee in 1991 to the aborted Brazil resolution at the Human Rights Council in 2003 the language used was sexual orientation. The Experts at Yogyakarta took the legal equivalent of a leap in the dark when they included gender identity as well and gave birth to the new acronym SOGI. Gender identity founds its way into the principles due to the sustained advocacy by LGBT advocates from the global south for whom the inclusion of gender identity was a non negotiable article of faith. The Yogyakarta formulation was picked up by the Human Rights Council in its three resolutions in 2011,  2014 and 2016 and today the concept of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity as  co equal markers of discrimination has  became established within the UN system.

The election of Donald Trump as the next U.S. President puts the world at a “pivotal moment in our fight for the human rights of key populations and people living with HIV within the U.S. and in countries where the U.S. has hitherto provided important leadership,” according to a November 22 statement from the Global Network of People Living with HIV.

A federal judge ordered the U.S. Passport Agency to reconsider its refusal to issue Dana Zzyym, an intersex Navy veteran because Zzyym “could not accurately choose either male or female on the form, which does not provide any other gender marker designation,” according to Lambda Legal, which represents Zzyym.

Cuba’s long-time dictator Fidel Castro’s death was both celebrated and mourned. Included in Castro’s legacy is harsh treatment of LGBT people and quarantines of people with HIV/AIDS; his niece Mariela has become an outspoken supporter of LGBT rights in Cuba. A report by the Washington Blade’s Michael Lavers includes LGBT critics and supporters of the regime.

United Nations: African Group effort to block new SOGI expert defeated

Thai diplomat Vitit Muntarbhorn, the new UN Independent Expert on the protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, used his first official speech “to criticize antiquated laws, illiberal intepretations of religion and stereotyping,” according to a report from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Speaking as a keynote address to a Council of Europe meeting on LGBTI equality, challenged criminalization of same-sex relations as well as bullying and so-called “corrective rape.” More from OHCHR:

Mr. Muntarbhorn vowed to use his new mandate to press for action for the whole LGBTI community under the principle of non-discrimination enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Too many people were being stereotyped, stigmatized and ostracized, he said.

He named five key areas which would drive change: decriminalizing same-sex relationships; no longer treating LGBTI people as if they had a “problem” or “disorder”; recognizing people’s status; clarifying misconstructions and misinterpretations; and integrating gender-and-sexual diversity and teaching empathy from childhood onwards.

But he warned the problem could not be solved without addressing both political and cultural issues.

“The classic case is the variety of laws in a number of countries derived from the colonial era which still criminalize same-sex relations, even when the colonizing power discarded such laws a long time ago,” he said.

“On another front, while care, kindness and consideration are at the heart of religions in their common humanity and linkage with human rights, various interlocutors misconstrue or resort to interpretations to justify violence and discrimination.”

U.S.-based religious conservatives have been working closely with anti-gay country delegations at the United Nations to try to reverse progress on LGBT Human Rights, including the Human Rights Council’s historic action to create the independent expert position. A group of African countries, led by Botswana and cheered on by conservative civil society groups, attempted to suspend Muntarbhorn’s position to allow them time to challenge the legality of the Human Rights Council’s action.

The African Group statement argued that the “two notions” of sexual orientation and gender identity “are not and should not be linked to existing international human rights instruments.” A group of Latin American countries – Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mexico and Uruguay —  countered the African Group’s efforts to postpone the new mandate. A petition to protect the position launched by ILGA garnered the support of 850 human rights organizations from 157 countries.

Last Monday the human rights committee of the General Assembly narrowly voted down the suspension attempt and then voted 94 to 3 with 80 abstentions to approve the Human Rights Council’s report with the independent expert position intact. The Sri Lanka Guardian noted that Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Mongolia, Thailand, Vietnam, Turkey and the Korean Republic were among the countries voting to sustain the independent expert position. And, as the AFK Insider reports, South Africa’s government, which had criticized the independent expert position, ultimately voted against the African Group’s effort to kill it.

But as Reuters notes, some countries have already vowed not to cooperate:

Russia and Egypt, speaking on behalf of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, said they would not recognize the mandate of the gay rights investigator and would not cooperate with Muntarbhorn.

The Center for Family & Human Rights (C-Fam), a U.S. based anti-LGBT group active at the UN, called the vote against suspending the independent expert opinion a “major pro-family setback.”

Tanzania: HIV programs victim of anti-gay campaign by government

The Washington Post’s Kevin Sieff reports that as part of a crackdown on the gay community, the government has suspended U.S.-funded HIV programs:

East African nations have launched some of the world’s most vicious campaigns against gay men and women, outlawing same-sex liaisons and threatening punishments of years in jail.

But in a move that has alarmed health workers, Tanzania is turning its anti-homo­sexual fury in a new direction — targeting HIV/AIDS programs that have helped tame a disease that once ravaged the region.

Last month, the minister of health announced that Tanzania will ban HIV/AIDS outreach projects aimed at gay men, pending a review. That forced the closure, at least temporarily, of U.S.-funded programs that provide testing, condoms and medical care to gays. About 30 percent of gay men in Tanzania are HIV-positive; now health workers say that figure could rise…

The ban comes after months of bitter speeches and threats from Tanzanian officials aimed at the gay community and at organizations treating its HIV/AIDS patients. This year, police raided two U.S.-funded HIV/AIDS organizations and seized confidential patient information and supplies, officials said. In September, the deputy minister of health, Hamisi Kigwangalla, accused HIV treatment organizations of “promoting homosexuality.”

Tanzania has been a success story, writes Sieff, with the HIV/AIDS rate dropping from 12 percent to 5 percent since 2002 while the number of people receiving treatment has more than doubled in five years to over 700,000. But the new anti-gay crackdown could frighten people away from receiving treatment.

Even though Tanzania’s penal code refers to homosexuality as a “gross indecency,” the government had long permitted organizations to help gay men who had AIDS or who were at risk of contracting it.

But since John Magufuli was elected president last year, the government’s tolerance on the issue has disintegrated. Although Magufuli has not said anything publicly about homosexuality, a number of his appointees have made harsh remarks. Critics of gay rights say this nation — which has large numbers of Muslims and Christians — must protect traditional values.

In an August speech, Paul Makonda, the regional commissioner of Dar es Salaam, the capital, threatened to arrest people who were linked to gay men on social-networking sites.

“If there’s a homosexual who has a Facebook account, or with an Instagram account, all those who ‘follow’ him — it is very clear that they are just as guilty as the homosexual,” said Makonda, who is the equivalent of a governor.

The government also banned the distribution of lubricants that help ensure that condoms do not tear. Condoms are considered highly effective in preventing HIV transmission.

Turkey: European human rights court rules seizure of LGBT magazine violated free expression

The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday November 22 that the government had violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom of expression, in a case brought in 2009 involving the seizure of all copies of an issue of a magazine produced by LGBT advocacy group KAOS-GL. From the Court’s official press release:

The Court found in particular that the ground of protecting public morals relied upon by the authorities had been insufficient to justify the seizure order and the confiscation of all the copies of issue 28 of the magazine for more than five years.

The Court accepted that the measures taken to prevent access by specific groups of individuals – including minors – to this publication might have met a pressing social need. However, it emphasised that the domestic authorities had not attempted to implement a less harsh preventive measure than seizure of all the copies of the issue in question, for example by prohibiting sale of the magazine to persons under the age of 18 or requiring special packaging with a warning for minors.

Also this month, a court in Turkey sentenced three men who attacked LGBTI activist Kemal Ördek in 2015 to prison, two for up to five years based on robbery, threat and insult and another to 20 years for the additional charge of sexual assault. The case had drawn widespread criticism when the police initially failed to arrest the attackers.

A group of 14 LGBTI organizations has publicly criticized the government’s increasing political repression. Activist and lawyer Levent Pişkin who had been arrested earlier this month was released with restrictions on travel.

Nigeria: Anti-marriage law leads to increased blackmail and violence against lesbians and bi women

Blackmail, mob violence, torture and rape against lesbian and bisexual women have become progressively worse since the Same-Sex Marriage Protection Act became law in 2014, says Akudo Oguaghamba in a Mail & Guardian story by Carl Collison. Oguaghamba, executive director of the Women’s Health and Equal Rights Initiative and co-chair of the Pan-African International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intsersex Association, says:

lesbian and bisexual women are often faced with the double stigma of being women and possessing a sexual orientation that is contrary to Nigerian societal norms, which are highly patriarchal, hyper-religious and conservative. So, apart from having to navigate patriarchy and sexism, we have to work and live around the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act.

LGBT rights activist Bisi Alimi, who has been living in asylum in the IK since 2009, announced that he will enter Nigerian politics, an announcement that “was met by a ferocious backlash from anti-gay Nigerians.” Nigerian Newspapers Today chronicles some of the social media reaction, pro and con. One example: Please gather all the Nigerian gay along. After welcoming you home, we shall ensure that none of you escape, because we are going to burn and send you to hell, where you all belong.”

Ireland: New group promotes LGBT inclusion in Presbyterian Church

The Belfast Telegraph reports on a retired lawyer’s efforts to create a group that would promote inclusion of LGBT people in the Presbyterian Church, an effort “to emulate the success of existing grups such as Changing Ireland and Accepting Sexuality, which have been operating within the Church of Ireland and the Irish Methodist Church respectively.”

“Of all the Churches, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has failed to support its LGBT members by obstructing any opportunity for dialogue,” he claimed.

“The purpose of my initiative is to find a way through this for LGBT Presbyterians, and to support them in their spiritual lives by seeing that the three pillars of welcome, safety and inclusion are implanted in the Church.

“These issues are complicated. Churches find the matter toxic and are, just like political parties, afraid of splits. Other Churches here have networks supporting LGBT members and these have been successful to the degree that these Churches are no longer talking ‘into themselves’, but tentatively finding ways to dialogue with LGBT members.”

Hong Kong: Scholar urges religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws to promote reconciliation

The Standard reports that Jolita Pons, who heads political and press section of the EU’s office in Hong Kong and Macao urged Hong Kong to enact laws against LGBT discrimination, while a scholar at the University of Hong Kong suggested that including religious exemptions in the ordinance could allow the LGBT community to reconcile with Catholic and Protestant churches that have resisted anti-discrimination laws.

Germany: LGBT inclusion in school curricula met with backlash

The Guardian reports on the expansion of LGBT inclusion in German school curricula, along with backlash from concerned parents and anti-gay groups:

Growing far-right attitudes mean protests always follow when new states try to bring diversity education into schools – the furore began two years ago when almost 200,000 people signed a petition in Baden-Wurttemberg, afraid schools would sexualize children by promoting gay lifestyles, and they have since followed in Bavaria and Hesse.

The far-right Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) party, which made gains in the regional elections this year, has also published a proposal to strip out much of the homo-trans-and bisexuality teaching in schools and instead focus on “classical family values” and on how marriage between a man and woman is “life’s primary purpose.”

But LGBT teacher Mareike Klauenflugel says, “I think it’s particularly important to teach diversity in schools now – it’s a human rights issue and is about accepting people with different lifestyles, religious beliefs, sexual orientations, genders and backgrounds. It’s a kind of diversity competence that we really need in our society right now.”

Israel: Chief Rabbi calls homosexuality ‘cult of abomination’

Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar has been criticized for telling a reporter that homosexuality is a “cult of abomination” which the Torah “punishes…with death.” The BBC notes, “Although a fierce critic of homosexuality, in 2015 Rabbi Amar denounced the murder by an ultra-Orthodox Jew of an Israeli teenager at the city’s gay pride parade as ‘a terrible act of blood-letting… nothing can justify it’.”

El Salvador: Activists file marriage equality claim

LGBTI activists have filed a marriage equality claim before the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court.

Morocco: Human Rights Watch calls for release of teens arrested for kissing

Human Rights Watch called on authorities to drop charges against two teenage girls who face up to three years in prison for allegedly kissing each other.

Uganda: First queer film festival planned in December

Organizers announced that “the first queer film festival to be held in Uganda,” the Queer Kampala International Film Festival, will be held December 9-11. Its stated objective:

It is a well known fact that Uganda is one of the worst places for queer people and our primary goal is to increase awareness and tolerance of sexual identity issues through increased public exposure using films. We would like to spread correct information on sexual identity to the public and promote the dignity of LGBTs.


Netherlands: King visits LGBT group for first time

King Willem-Alexander visited COC Netherlands, the country’s main gay-rights group, in what AFP says was the first visit by a Dutch head of state with the group, which is “advocating for a ban on discrimination against LGBT people to be included in the constitution.”

India: New Delhi’s pride parade

AP reports on Sunday’s New Delhi pride parade:

Rituparna Borah, an activist, was not very hopeful, saying that the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not supportive of gay rights. “We have yet to have an inclusive society,” she said.