“Today, in France, we still cannot live and love freely just as we are,” said Joël Deumier, president of the association SOS Homophobie. In its annual report published May 10, 2017, the organization stated it received 1,575 testimonies of anti-LGBT acts in 2016, an increase of nearly 20% compared with the previous year. It’s possible that the increase in reported incidents reflects a greater willingness of victims to speak out. Still, SOS Homophobie believes that many victims of anti-LGBT acts do not dare come forward.

Demonstration in support of same-sex marriage in Paris, 16 December 2012.

© 2012 Olivier Hoffschir

In 2016, SOS Homophobie received 26 reports from people who said they had a homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic encounter with justice or law enforcement officials. By this is meant that an officer refused to characterize an assault as homophobic in a complaint or to even file a complaint, or that a law enforcement officer himself discriminated against LGBT people.

While these incidents remain thankfully limited, they are no less unacceptable. France should take measures to determine how widespread these attitudes are among public officials, and to prevent subversion of their duties because of this attitude.

SOS Homophobie’s report also shows a correlation between debates over equal rights and the increase of anti-LGBT acts. The organization recorded a spike in reported incidents in 2013, the year France legalized same-sex marriage. In 2016, France adopted a law waiving the requirement for transgender people to provide proof of medical treatment to amend their legal gender. That same year saw a 76% spike in reported transphobic incidents.

While a majority of the French population is in favor of allowing same-sex couples to get married and adopt children, opponents of LGBT rights are a “vocal minority,” and are especially active on social media, where prosecution for homophobic statements remains difficult to carry out.

Several candidates for the 2017 presidential election expressed their intention to “rewrite the Taubira law” on same-sex marriage and adoption. One candidate even received the support of Sens commun, an organization openly opposed to the rights of LGBT people. When political figures take stands that are hostile to equal rights, they may “rekindle hate.”

It is high time to end discrimination against LGBT people and the French authorities have a key responsibility and role to turn this into reality.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

This week Poland’s parliament has the chance to improve the lives of transgender people by passing a law that simplifies the legal gender recognition procedure.

Recognition before the law in your preferred gender is a vital aspect of ensuring respect for the human rights of transgender people. For example, it allows transgender people to access services on an equal footing with their peers.

Transgender activists march in the 2015 Warsaw Pride holding a banner that reads "YES to Gender Accordance Act.”

© 2015 Trans-Fuzja

Momentum on this matter is building. Earlier this year, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe issued a resolution noting “the emergence of a right to gender identity”, while raising concerns that “transgender people face widespread discrimination in Europe.”

Members of Poland’s parliament will consider the country’s Act on Gender Recognition this Friday. Parliament already passed the draft legislation over the summer, although the president vetoed it last week.

The act proposes some important advances.

First, it defines gender identity as a “settled and intense experience of one’s own gender,” which may or may not correspond with one's sex assigned at birth.

Second, it eliminates the requirement for physical interventions before gender can be legally recognized, and instead makes the process a court procedure.

Third, it spells out the various documents on which applicants are legally entitled to change their gender – including education certificates, work qualifications, and health records – and allows the possibility for young transgender people, once they reach age 16, to change their name.

Access to documents in your preferred gender and name is a key element in ensuring respect for an individual’s right to personal and private life, and also allows transgender people better access to healthcare, education, and employment.

In a recent survey, 78 percent of Polish transgender people said quicker and easier legal gender recognition procedures would allow them to live more comfortably.

There’s no doubt President Andrzej Duda’s recent veto of the act was a setback. But if parliament does vote in majority support of the legislation, Poland will take a huge step forward and transform the lives of many.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Graeme Reid, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program, is an expert on LGBT rights. He has conducted research, taught and published extensively on gender, sexuality, LGBT issues, and HIV/AIDS.

Before joining Human Rights Watch in 2011, Reid was the founding director of the Gay and Lesbian Archives of South Africa, a researcher at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research and a lecturer in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies at Yale University. An anthropologist by training, Reid received an master’s from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and a PhD from the University of Amsterdam.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Ezekiel Mutua, the head of Kenya’s Film Classification Board, didn’t want Kenyans to see Wanuri Kahiu’s internationally acclaimed film Rafiki. After watching the film, I can see why.

Mutua’s venomous attitude toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is no secret. Since becoming head of the film board in 2015, he has waged war against a series of artistic endeavors and events related to LGBT issues. Using the soapbox provided to him as Kenya’s film censor-in-chief, he has asserted vast powers, even attempting to ban a podcast and a speed-dating event. In 2016 he gained notoriety by writing to YouTube to ask the video platform to take down a re-telling of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s pro-equality anthem “Same Love” by the Kenyan artist Art Attack. 

So it came as no surprise when Mutua banned Rafiki, a love story involving two young women whose fathers are pitted against one another in a local election, even after the film became Kenya’s first to be screened at Cannes, drawing plaudits from global audiences. He claimed the film would “promote lesbianism.”

Director Kahiu hoped to submit the film for an Oscar, but the ban stood in her way: entries must be first released in the country submitting the film. Emboldened by a series of progressive Kenyan court rulings on issues related to LGBT rights, Kahiu took the film board to court, arguing that the ban infringed on freedom of expression. She won a seven-day reprieve, just long enough to meet the Oscar screening requirements, beginning on September 23. Though Kenya’s Oscars selection committee ultimately chose another film, Kahiu’s victory was indisputable: the movie played to sold-out audiences in Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu all week.

As a queer activist, I watched Rafiki, like nearly every queer-themed movie I see, with tension held tight in my belly; the fear that the entertaining plot, the innocent love, the self-discovery, would crescendo toward a moment of unspeakable violence. Because for too many LGBT people around the world, love stories don’t have happy endings. Love can mean brutality, even death. Or arrest, or family rejection.

I curled my toes, dreading what might be in store for the characters Kena and Ziki even while reveling in the film’s true-to-life banter and colorful images of Nairobi’s grit and glory, its dilapidated high-rises, tattered campaign posters, tangled electric lines, neighborhood gossips.

Violence does rear its head in the film. And Kenyan audiences should see this. Homophobic politicians attempt to negate “gay rights,” often raising the specter of same-sex marriage. But Kenyan activists have long made clear that they are fighting first and foremost for something much more basic: the right to be free from violence. Sadly, that right cannot yet be taken for granted. When authorities like Mutua seek to prohibit representations of this reality, which can help build public empathy and understanding, they only compound the problem.

But the most salient take-away from Rafiki for me was not about the violence. It was about love. The love between two idealistic, iconoclastic, intelligent, and imperfect young women. The love that some of their friends and family members continue to hold for them after they are involuntarily “outed,” despite that love being complicated by prejudice.

This is what Ezekiel Mutua didn’t want Kenyans to see. That LGBT people are fully human and beautiful, that they love and are loved, that they bruise and bleed like all Kenyans, that they seek and receive comfort and support. That young women like Kena and Ziki should be able to love, free from violence, and to be loved by their families and communities. That the love between two women is no threat to other people’s enjoyment of their rights.

For many Kenyans, viewing Rafiki may be the first step toward building more empathy and acceptance of LGBT people. That will ultimately benefit all Kenyans – apart from those who seek to instrumentalize homophobia to gain political relevance.

Judge Wilfrida Okwany said in her decision against the film board’s censorship, “I am not convinced that Kenya is such a weak society whose moral foundation will be shaken by watching a film depicting a gay theme.” On the contrary, Kenya’s moral foundation may well be strengthened.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

People protest U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement that he plans to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals from serving in any capacity in the U.S. military, in Times Square, in New York City, New York, U.S., July 26, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

On Oct. 26, just over  20 years after he was killed in a homophobic attack, Matthew Shepard will be interred at Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

Shepard’s murder was not just tragic, but horrific. After leaving a bar with two men, he was kidnapped, robbed, brutally beaten and tied to a fence, where he was left overnight to die.

I was a not-yet-out 13-year-old in North Dakota when Shepard was killed, and it is difficult to overstate the impact that his death had on gay men of my generation. I recall the shock and sorrow, and the sense of resolve that nothing like that should happen again. I remember the strength and perseverance of his parents, Judy and Dennis, who worked to ensure that it didn’t.

But I also remember the hatefulness that his death exposed in the weeks and months that followed, both in the extremity of its violence and in the homophobic rhetoric aired by groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church, which picketed Shepard’s funeral. Even after his death galvanized a movement for stronger anti-violence protections, it was those cruel responses that left his parents fearful that any permanent gravesite would be defaced.

That Shepard is being laid to rest at Washington National Cathedral — the Episcopal cathedral that has hosted funerals for presidents and lawmakers — is fitting for the profound impact of his legacy. His death is best remembered for sparking a renewed push for hate crimes legislation, and especially the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a federal law enacted in 2009.

The act updated federal hate crimes legislation to include crimes motivated by a person’s gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. It expanded the collection of federal hate crimes data, allowed federal authorities to pursue investigations when local authorities did not, and gave funding to help state and local authorities prosecute hate crimes.

While the act made important substantive changes, the bigger legacy of Matthew Shepard’s tragic murder is that it prompted many people to confront the reality and intensity of anti-LGBT violence. And as we prepare to lay him to rest, there is still more we can do to honor that legacy today.

LGBT people continue to face violence in the United States. In 2016, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) received reports of 1,036 incidents of hate violence against LGBT people in the United States. The majority were gay, between 19 and 39 years old, and/or people of color.

Data also show that transgender people, and particularly transgender women of color, are at a disproportionate risk of violence. A 2015 survey of almost 28,000 transgender people found that, in the year prior to the survey, nearly half had been verbally assaulted and one in 10 had been physically assaulted because they were transgender.

In 2017, advocates documented at least 29 murders of transgender peoplein the United States — the deadliest year on record. In 2018, 22 transgender people have been killed, including the fatal stabbing of Ciara Minaj Carter Frazier in Chicago just days ago. At least some of these killings have been directly motivated by anti-transgender bias. But high rates of unemployment, poverty, housing insecurity, lack of access to health care, and discrimination also leave transgender people of color particularly vulnerable to fatal violence. Stereotypes that dehumanize transgender people in our cultural and political discourse almost certainly make this violence worse.

And while Shepard’s memory powerfully reminds us to address hate violence, LGBT people face other forms of violence as well. In 2016, the NCAVP also received 2,032 reports of intimate partner violence from its affiliate organizations. In too many parts of the United States, gender  stereotypes and a lack of LGBT-inclusive providers deter LGBT survivors from reporting intimate partner violence and seeking and obtaining services.

There is more we can do in law and policy to eliminate anti-LGBT violence. Where hate crimes laws have been adopted, LGBT people often remain excluded. Of the 46 states that have adopted hate crime laws, only 17 states and the District of Columbia cover sexual orientation and gender identity, and another 13 states cover sexual orientation alone. The remaining 16 states cover a range of other groups, but not LGBT people.

States can also ban the “gay panic” or “trans panic” defense, where perpetrators argue they were provoked to violence by discovering that the victim was LGBT and should not be held accountable for their response. The defense has reportedly has been used in more than half of U.S. states. California expressly banned the defense in 2014, and while bills have been introduced elsewhere, Illinois and Rhode Island are the only states that have followed suit.

Finally, Congress can take action to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). In 2013, lawmakers added provisions to VAWA that recognized LGBT people as an “underserved population” and prohibited grantees from discriminating against survivors based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Those steps have been crucially important in supporting LGBT-inclusive programs and making services for survivors more accessible. When VAWA was set to expire last month, Congress passed only a short-term extension through Dec. 7. Congress should swiftly and fully reauthorize VAWA, and should not remove or water down crucial protections for LGBT people in the process.

Matthew Shepard’s death galvanized a national movement against anti-LGBT violence. Now, as we lay him to rest 20 years later, there is more that all of us can do to carry that legacy forward and help put an end to violence against LGBT people in all its forms.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

US: Doctors Still Do Harmful Surgeries on Intersex Kids

Medical professional associations should enact standards of care for intersex children that rule out medically unnecessary surgery before patients are old enough to consent.

A group of European medical experts has published new treatment guidelines urging the deferral of medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex children until they are old enough to consent. The guidelines are based on medical data and ethical considerations – and, importantly, the views of intersex patient advocates, including parents of kids affected.

“Intersex” refers to the estimated 1.7 percent of the population born with bodily traits that do not fit conventional expectations of female or male. Their sex characteristics, such as chromosomes, gonads, or genitals, may differ from social expectations. These variations are medically benign, yet in the 1960s surgeons in the US popularized  “normalizing” cosmetic operations, such as procedures to reduce the size of the clitoris. But these procedures are not designed to treat a medical problem and there is no evidence that such operations help children “fit in” or “function in society,” which some surgeons say is their aim. The operations do however carry high risks of scarring, loss of sexual sensation, incontinence, sterilization, and psychological trauma.

The new European consensus statement states that: “For sensitive and/or irreversible procedures, such as genital surgery, we advise that the intervention be postponed until the individual is old enough to be actively involved in the decision whenever possible.”

Medically unnecessary surgery on intersex children has already been condemned by the World Health Organization, three former US surgeons-generalPhysicians for Human Rights, the AIS-DSD Support Group for intersex people and their families, Amnesty InternationalUN expertsLambda Legal, the ACLU, two American pediatrics professional bodies, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and intersex-led organizations worldwide.

For decades, intersex patients and their advocates have asked the medical community to develop standards to defer elective procedures until patients can decide for themselves. But, bar some brave physician voices, professional medical associations have largely failed to regulate the practice – and in some cases, even shut out the views of intersex people

As the momentum to end medically unnecessary surgeries grows, including patient advocate voices in policy development should be the new normal.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Participants hold a giant rainbow flag during the Prague Pride Parade where thousands marched through the city centre in support of gay rights, in Czech Republic, August 13, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters

A policy in the Czech Republic forcing transgender people to undergo sterilization surgeries to legally change their gender violates the right to health, according to the European Committee of Social Rights.

Transgender people whose documents don’t reflect their gender identity find that daily life is fraught with potential for violence and humiliation whenever their identity documents are checked or their appearance scrutinized.

Non-governmental groups ILGA-Europe and Transgender Europe argued that the Czech Republic’s requirements for legal gender recognition violated the European Social Charter, a Council of Europe treaty focused on social and economic rights. Earlier this month, the committee that evaluates governments’ compliance with the treaty found the Czech Republic to be in violation of Article 11, on the “right to protection of health.”

The current Czech law means some “transgender persons in the Czech Republic may be forced to accept to undergo a medical sterilization, a serious life-altering medical intervention, with risks of side effects and complications, and which is not medically necessary, in order to have their gender identity recognized,” the committee said.

There are clear standards on how to do better.

Countries around the world are moving toward gender recognition policies based on a person’s self-identification, not the approval of any doctor, judge or other authority. Malta’s 2015 law, based on a case that originated in a case at the European Court of Human Rights, states that transgender people can legally self-declare their own gender without any medical assessments. Denmark and Argentina have also removed medical requirements altogether. 

“State recognition of a person’s gender identity is itself a right recognized by international human rights law,” the social rights committee noted, “and is important for guaranteeing the full enjoyment of all human rights.” This judgement should prompt the Czech government to change its law, and it should resonate with governments across Europe as a call to action.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Yuriko Koike, governor of Tokyo, speaks in an interview in Tokyo, Japan on Monday August. 20, 2018. 

© 2018 Keith Bedford/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Last week Tokyo’s municipal government passed a bill that prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. In doing so, the city not only demonstrated its commitment to equal rights for all, but also to making the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games a springboard for human rights in Japan and beyond.

The new law states that the city government, citizens, and enterprises “may not unduly discriminate on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.” It requires the government to “conduct measures needed to make sure human-rights values are rooted in all corners of the city and diversity is respected in the city.”

Japan has twice voted for United Nations resolutions to end violence and discrimination against LGBT people. However, this law took its inspiration not from international human-rights treaties, but rather from the Olympic Charter. As the law reads: “This act upholds the goal of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to make Tokyo a city that upholds the human-rights values of banning any sort of discrimination as stated in the Olympic Charter.”

Elsewhere around the world, the Olympics have driven some changes in how governments hosting the Games act on LGBT rights issues. This has in part been a rebuke to Russia for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The Russian government’s passage of the discriminatory “gay propaganda” law marred the Games, along with other human-rights violations such as forced evictions, abuses against migrant workers, and media censorship.

In December 2014, as part of its “Olympic Agenda 2020,” the International Olympic Committee confirmed that all future host-city contracts would include a requirement specifically banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government went even further, though, by including gender-identity protections.

The Tokyo law can be added to a growing list of local and national measures that recognize and protect LGBT people in Japan.

At least seven local governments across the country now offer certificates to recognize same-sex couples – even though there is no marriage equality at a national level.

Nationally, the Education Ministry issued a “Guidebook for Teachers” in 2016 that outlines how to treat LGBT students in schools. In March 2017, the ministry announced it had revised the national bullying-prevention policy to include LGBT students. An increasing number of schools are allowing LGBT students to select their own uniforms so that they’re not compelled to wear a girl’s or boy’s uniform.

Internationally, Japan, along with the United States and the Netherlands, led a UNESCO conference in 2016 on bullying of LGBT students. Japan has voted for two UN resolutions to end violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Despite these promising steps, Japan still has no national legislation protecting LGBT people from discrimination and does not grant legal recognition to same-sex couples. It also labels transgender people who request legal recognition as having a “Gender Identity Disorder” and leaves them with no alternative but to undergo unnecessary and invasive medical procedures to secure official documents that reflect their gender identity.

The Tokyo city law is important recognition that the Olympic Charter stands for inclusiveness and respect. It’s a template for the national government to demonstrate the Olympic spirit by taking its own steps to revoke discriminatory laws and policies, and enact protective ones.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A group of Doctors meet in the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi October 4, 2013. 

© 2013 Reuters

On September 13, Lambda Legal and interACT Advocates for Intersex Youth published a detailed guide on how to make hospitals compassionate, affirming, and evidence-driven centers for intersex health care. It is very badly needed.

I have interviewed dozens of doctors, surgeons, and mental health providers who care for intersex children in the US, and who work with parents of children born with genital differences.

Every practitioner I met across the United States told me they needed more data and guidance. Every parent told me they just wanted the information and advice they needed to raise a healthy and happy child. Every person with intersex traits whose story I heard spoke of the deep desire to make informed decisions about their own body. A 40-year-old intersex woman in California told me about the medical care she received as a child: ““I felt like I was being treated like I was on fire, and they were going to throw water on me because I was on fire.” She said: “But all that time, they didn’t realize I was drowning.”

Unfortunately, affirmative and respectful care for intersex people is not the norm — far from it.

“Intersex” refers to the approximately 1.7 percent of the population born with a range of bodily traits that do not fit conventional expectations of female or male. Their sex characteristics, such as chromosomes, gonads, or genitals, may differ from social expectations. These variations are medically benign.

But in the 1960s, American surgeons popularized cosmetic operations to “normalize” intersex children. These children generally have no medical problem. And no data has ever demonstrated that the operations help children “fit in” or “function in society,” which some surgeons say is the aim of the procedures. The operations, such as clitoral reductions, vaginoplasties, and gonadectomies, carry high risks of scarring, incontinence, sterilization, and psychological trauma.

I heard from parents who felt coerced — even bullied — into going ahead with cosmetic surgeries to which their children are not old enough to consent. Some surgeons, under the protection of anonymity in our interviews, described to me how they told parents that surgery could prevent their kid’s suicide — which is flagrantly untrue and deeply unfair to confused and distressed parents.

But most of the doctors I spoke with acknowledged the shortcomings of intersex health care, even in their own practice over the years. They wanted guidance and policy to help them do better, as a community of physicians who took an oath to “Do No Harm” by their intersex patients.

Now that guidance exists.

Lambda and interACT’s new guidelines make it clear: Intersex patients need specialized care, but above all, they need honesty and support from their doctors. There are parallels in transgender health care issues and good basic standards for informed consent that should be applied to all patients. Intersex people aren’t asking for anything groundbreaking or special — just respect and transparency, and an end to the coercive early surgery that has damaged so many lives.

The document outlines how hospitals should include variations in sex characteristics in their non-discrimination policies, establish and uphold policies ensuring that their surgeons will not perform medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex children who are too young to give their own informed consent, support parents of intersex infants, and refrain from stigmatizing intersex children.

Doctors have in recent years increasingly acknowledged that they need guidance on intersex issues to avoid repeating past mistakes.

In 2017, Dr. Ilene Wong, a urologist in Pennsylvania, acknowledged the harm in which she took part when she operated on an intersex child without her consent. She wrote in Newsweek: “Eight years ago, I did irrevocable damage to the first intersex person I ever met.” Dr. Wong, who has become a staunch intersex patient advocate, knows that her field of surgery has stuck stubbornly to an outdated and harmful paradigm.

“The psychological damage caused by intervention is just as staggering, as evidenced by generations of intersex adults dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, problems with intimacy and severe depression,” she said.

Other doctors agree.

“It is harmful to make sex assignments based on characteristics other than gender identity,” said Dr. Deanna Adkins, the director of the Duke University Center for Child and Adolescent Gender Care, when she testified in a North Carolina court against the state’s notorious anti-transgender “bathroom bill.” Infants too young to walk or speak cannot express their gender identity. So the surgeries in question should be deferred until they can express their gender identity and give their informed consent for procedures that will alter how their bodies look and feel.

Alice Dreger, a bioethicist who served on a National Institutes of Health (NIH) intersex research project before resigning in protest in 2015, wrote of her two decades of engagement on the intersex surgery controversy: “While many clinicians have privately shared my outrage about these activities, in public, the great majority have remained essentially silent.”

The new guide from Lambda Legal and interACT gives those physicians footing to make a difference by creating policies that will make their intersex patients feel welcome in their clinics — and ensure they receive care that affirms them and their choices about their bodies, rather than subjecting them to other people’s ideals.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Supporters of same-sex marriage take part in a rally outside Presidential Office Building in Taipei, Taiwan, December 10, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters

People’s human rights should not hinge on a popular vote. But that’s exactly what is happening in Taiwan, and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are at risk.

Ironically, the latest threat stems from a huge victory for LGBT people in Taiwan. In May 2017, Taiwan’s Constitutional Court declared as unconstitutional the definition of marriage as being “between a man and a woman.” The court gave parliament two years to amend existing laws or pass new legislation to include same-sex marriage.

But in an attempt to circumvent the ruling, the group Alliance for Next Generation’s Happiness collected sufficient signatures to trigger a referendum on whether to allow same-sex marriage. Fundamental human rights are at stake, and the public rhetoric has been corrosive. “The collapse of the family system will deal a huge blow to society,” said a spokesperson for the alliance. Other groups have gone further by including two additional provisions in the referendum: a separate legal mechanism for same-sex couples to register their relationships; and a proposal to roll back LGBT-inclusive portions of Taiwan's Gender Equity Education Act, which would undermine protections for vulnerable youth disproportionately affected by bullying.     

Taiwan’s referendum has become an international proxy battle for the politics of intolerance.  US-based groups that failed to defeat marriage equality in the United States, including the National Organization for Marriage, are pouring resources into the anti-equality campaign in Taiwan, using familiar tactics that exploit negative stereotypes and provoke fear. 

To complicate matters further, LGBT activists gathered signatures for a separate referendum in support of marriage equality, which may also proceed in November pending a decision by Taiwan’s Central Election Commission. They have launched a campaign, supported by Freedom to Marry Global, highlighting the stories of individuals affected by marriage equality to encourage “no” votes on the first referendum and “yes” votes on their own.

Jennifer Lu, chief coordinator of Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan, says: "Our opponents thought that by pushing a referendum attacking same-sex couples and LGBT youth, they could derail our movement to advance LGBT equality in Taiwan. But they couldn't have been more wrong. Now more than ever, LGBT people in Taiwan are visible – we're talking to our family, friends, and coworkers about the importance of marriage and treating everyone with respect under the law.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Yuriko Koike, governor of Tokyo, speaks in an interview in Tokyo, Japan on Monday August. 20, 2018. 

© 2018 Keith Bedford/Bloomberg via Getty Images


(Tokyo) – The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has passed a bill that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, Human Rights Watch said. The act, enacted on October 5, 2018, also commits the city government to conducting public education about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights.

Tokyo authorities were inspired to draft the bill in advance of the city hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Tokyo metropolitan government has enshrined in law its commitment to hosting an inclusive and rights-respecting Olympic games,” said Kanae Doi, Japan director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities now need to put the policy into action and end anti-LGBT discrimination in schools, workplaces, and the wider society.”

Human Rights Watch participated in the government’s open consultation for the act to fulfill the Olympic Charter’s human rights values. The law states: “This act upholds the goal of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to make Tokyo a city that upholds the human rights values of banning any sort of discrimination as stated in the Olympic Charter.”

The Olympics have driven some changes in how governments hosting the games act on LGBT rights issues. This has in part been a rebuke to Russia for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The Russian government’s passage of the discriminatory “gay propaganda” law marred the games, along with other human rights violations such as forced evictions, abuses against migrant workers, and media censorship. In December 2014, as part of its “Olympic Agenda 2020,” the International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirmed that all future host city contracts would include a requirement to specifically ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The new Tokyo law states “the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, citizens, and enterprises may not unduly discriminate on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation” and pledges that the government will “conduct measures needed to make sure human rights values are rooted in all corners of the city and diversity is respected in the city.”

Japan’s national government has, in recent years, taken positive steps toward recognizing and protecting LGBT people, Human Rights Watch said. The Education Ministry issued a “Guidebook for Teachers” in 2016 that outlines how to treat LGBT students in schools. That same year, Japan, along with the United States and the Netherlands, led a UNESCO conference on LGBT student bullying. In March 2017, the ministry announced it had revised the national bullying prevention policy to include LGBT students. Japan has also voted for two United Nations Human Rights Council resolutions to end violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Despite these promising steps, Japan still has no national legislation protecting LGBT people from discrimination and does not grant legal recognition to same-sex couples, though more and more local authorities are doing so. It also labels transgender people who request legal recognition as having a “Gender Identity Disorder” and leaves them with no alternative but to undergo unnecessary and invasive medical procedures to secure official documents that reflect their gender identity.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

People wave a Lebanese national flag during a protest in Central Beirut December 11, 2006.

© 2006 Reuters

Lebanese General Security officers unlawfully attempted to shut down a conference on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people on September 29, 2018, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch staff members were among the participants at NEDWA, a conference organized by the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality (AFE), a group that works to advance LGBT and other human rights,

General Security is an intelligence branch of Lebanese security forces and is the agency that oversees the entry and exit of foreigners into the country.

Late on the conference’s third day, officers from General Security, arrived at the hotel where the conference was being held and questioned AFE executive director Georges Azzi, directing him to cancel the conference and sign a pledge to cease any activities related to the conference. When Azzi refused, the officers ordered the hotel to shut down the conference.

General Security officers also took details of all conference participants from the hotel registry, including those from highly repressive countries such as Egypt, where, in 2017, police arrested over 100 people for being gay or transgender, and Iraq, where armed groups have murdered LGBT people with impunity. AFE, which is an officially registered nongovernmental organization, moved the conference to a different hotel for its final day.

“General Security’s latest efforts to shut down an LGBT conference in Lebanon is an attack on freedom of assembly rights and an attempt to silence the voices of courageous activists,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Trying to intimidate NEDWA organizers and activists working in challenging circumstances throughout the Middle East and North Africa violates Lebanon’s obligations under international law.”

The four-day conference, which included workshops on issues such as human rights, advocacy, movement-building, health, and the arts, has taken place annually in Beirut since 2013 and includes people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

The General Security Forces’ reasons for trying to shut down the conference are unclear, but they followed public statements from the Muslim Scholars Association accusing NEDWA organizers of promoting homosexuality and drug abuse. The Muslim Scholars Association called for the organizers’ arrest and the cancellation of the conference on the grounds of “incitement to immorality.”

The General Security Forces have a responsibility to protect everyone’s rights, not to act on the basis of spurious and unfounded allegations, Human Rights Watch said.

Lebanese government interference has previously put a stop to human rights events around gender and sexuality in the name of “preserving public morality.” On May 14, the Internal Security Forces,  detained a prominent LGBT rights activist and pressured him to cancel some events associated with Beirut Pride. In August 2017, General Security Forces ordered a hotel to cancel a human rights workshop organized by AFE.

Government disruptions of peaceful human rights activities violate the rights to non-discrimination and freedom of assembly, expression, and association in a country that has witnessed progress in the courts toward respecting the rights of LGBT people. In July, a district court of appeal issued a groundbreaking ruling that same-sex conduct is not unlawful, dismissing charges under article 534 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes “any sexual intercourse contrary to the order of nature” and provides for sentence of up to one year in prison. The appeals court judge denounced the law’s discriminatory intrusion in people’s private lives and declared that homosexuality is not “unnatural.”

The Lebanese government should take immediate steps toward repealing laws that criminalize consensual adult sexual conduct, Human Rights Watch said. While these laws are being reviewed, the minister of interior, public prosecutor and the general director of General Security Forces should ensure that groups can organize around LGBT rights without official interference and intimidation.

“The crackdown on a conference of LGBT rights activists is a step backward that threatens activists not just in Lebanon but throughout the Middle East and North Africa,” Fakih said. “In a region where dozens have been killed and hundreds arrested due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, the Lebanese authorities should be assisting, not preventing, activists from working together toward regional solutions.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Members of Romania's gay community attend the GayFest Parade 2011 in Bucharest June 4, 2011.

© 2011 Reuters

Romanian polls open this weekend for a referendum that will subject the rights of minorities to the whims of the majority. If approved, the referendum would change the constitution to define marriage as one between “a man and a woman,” replacing the existing gender-neutral reference to the union of “spouses.”

Who gets to enjoy their human rights should not be decided by popular vote, and this referendum is particularly opportunistic and insidious. 

First, the referendum is redundant since the existing civil code does not permit same-sex marriage or civil partnership – this vote is little more than a thinly veiled attempt to scapegoat a vulnerable minority. It is also a wasteful extravagance, costing an estimated €20 million, at a time when Romania is facing severe economic hardship.

Second, the referendum is incompatible with being a member of the EU, which comes with both benefits and obligations. Discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation is explicitly prohibited in Article 21 of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The Romanian Constitutional Court recognized the right to family life for same-sex couples married outside the country when it accepted a ruling by the European Court of Justice in a 2018 case brought by Adrian Coman and Clai Hamilton. The European court upheld the right of same-sex couples to freedom of movement within the EU, even in those jurisdictions that do not recognize same-sex marriage.

The Romanian senate approved the referendum after 3 million signatures were submitted by a civil society group, the Coalition for the Family. It requires a thirty percent turnout of eligible voters for the results to become law, and human rights groups in Romania are calling for voters to stay away from this illegitimate and divisive poll that has no other purpose but to symbolically marginalize lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. “We encourage all citizens with voting rights to stay home on the day of the referendum and not to legitimize a political maneuver to divert public attention and to promote hatred,” said Florin Buhuceanu, chair of ACCEPT.

In attempting to narrow the definition of “spouse” and promote the nuclear family as the only legitimate family form, Romanian authorities ignore same-sex couples, single-parent families, and extended families — and risk violating international and European law.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A man sells rainbow flags near The Stonewall Inn, on the eve of the LGBT Pride March, in the Greenwich Village section of New York City, , U.S. June 24, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

A new US government policy may make it impossible for some LGBT UN staff to live together with their partners in the United States.

Starting today, UN staff, including those working at global headquarters in New York, will need proof of marriage to secure visas allowing their partners to reside with them in the US. This will have an insidious impact on same-sex couples from countries that ban same-sex marriage or only offer civil unions.

Since 2009, UN staff working in the United States have brought their partners into the country without showing a marriage license. Now, domestic partners of UN staff who are already in the United States could face deportation “unless they submit the required proof of marriage.” Those not yet in the country will need to show they’re married to secure a visa, potentially forcing those living in countries without marriage equality to choose between a posting at UN headquarters or family separation.

UN staff come from around the world, and in the vast majority of countries same-sex marriage is not legal. Only 25 countries provide for marriage equality, although Austria, Taiwan and Chile are expected to revise their laws soon. In over 70 countries, however, homosexual conduct remains illegal and in many, anyone found “guilty” can be sentenced to harsh punishments including years in prison or even public caning.

UN staff seeking US visas to work at headquarters could theoretically get married in one of the 25 countries that allows same-sex marriage. However, in many situations registering a marriage could put same-sex couples at risk in a way that privately providing evidence of a domestic partnership would not have done. One Nigerian man (not a UN staffer) who married his same-sex partner abroad reported that both he and his family members in Nigeria received death threats as a result. EgyptTunisia, Cameroon, Tanzania, Indonesia, UgandaRussia, and many other countries have arrested people for same-sex conduct.

While US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has made his personal opposition to marriage equality known, this latest policy reversal does not fit trends worldwide. For example, in a July ruling, Hong Kong’s highest court directed the government to recognize an unmarried same-sex couple for visa purposes.

The US government should recognize, as it had for almost nine years until today, that requiring a marriage as proof of bona fide partnership is a bad and cruel policy, one that replicates the terrible discrimination many LGBT people face in their own countries, and should be immediately reversed.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Caster Semenya of South Africa, Charlene Lipsey of the United States and Lynsey Sharp of Great Britain compete in the Women's 800 metres semi finals during day eight of the 16th IAAF World Athletics Championships London 2017 at the London Stadium on August 11, 2017 in London, United Kingdom. 

© 2017 Getty Images/ Andy Lyons

Three United Nations human rights experts have written a joint letter to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) raising concerns about new regulations that discriminate against women with intersex variations and bar certain athletes from competition.

The letter is a boost for Caster Semenya, the 27-year-old South African Olympic sprinting champion who is challenging the regulations in court, calling them “discriminatory, irrational, [and] unjustifiable.”

The regulations, published in April, target women athletes with some intersex variations – sometimes called “differences of sex development” or “DSD” – that cause higher than typical natural testosterone levels. The regulations deny these women the right to participate in the female category for running events between 400 meters and a mile unless they submit to invasive testing and medically unnecessary “treatment.” There is no clear scientific consensus that women with higher than typical natural testosterone have a performance advantage in athletics.

“The regulations reinforce negative stereotypes and stigma that women in the targeted category are not women – and that they either need to be “fixed” through medically unnecessary treatment with negative health impacts,” the experts on health, torture, and women’s rights wrote. “Women who do not conform to culturally constructed notions of womanhood are particularly at risk of discrimination, violence, and criminalization. By singling out a certain group of athletes and denying them membership in the ‘female’ category, the IAAF puts these women at risk of repercussions far beyond the inability to compete.”

In 2011, the IAAF issued very similar regulations. The Indian runner Dutee Chand challenged the regulations at the Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS), leading to a 2014 judgment that the 2011 regulations did “discriminate against women and discriminate based on a natural physical trait.” The court rightly noted that, “Such discrimination is, unless justified, contrary to the Olympic Charter, the IAAF Constitution and the laws of Monaco” and stated that “if the [testosterone] Regulations cannot be justified, specifically as a reasonable and necessary response to a legitimate need, then they should be declared invalid.”

These regulations are stigmatizing, stereotyping, and discriminatory and have no place in sport or society.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am