“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

Sebuah kelompok yang menentang komunitas Lesbian, Gay dan Transjender (LGBT) sedang bersiap untuk menghadapi kelompok pro-LGBT yang melakukan protes tandingan di Monumen Tugu, Yogyakarta, pada 23 Pebruari.

© 2016 Andreas Fitri Atmoko/Antara

This week at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Indonesia accepted two recommendations from UN member countries to improve the situation for sexual and gender minorities – a good step. But after 18 months of government-fueled animus against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people that has stoked a surge in violence and harassment, the government should have done better.

Indonesia had initially indicated that it would reject all LGBT-related recommendations at its Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the process in which every UN member state has its human rights record reviewed every four years. However, this week the government announced it would accept two vague proposals to “take further steps to ensure a safe and enabling environment for all human rights defenders,” including LGBT activists, and a pitch to implement freedom of expression, association, and assembly rights, and give priority to equality and nondiscrimination – including for LGBT people.

But it won’t go unnoticed that Indonesia rejected more specific calls to “repeal or revise legislation, notably the relevant provisions of the Aceh Islamic Criminal Code, which criminalizes sexual relations among consenting adults of the same sex,” as well as to “guarantee the rights of…[LGBT] persons, through effective legal action against incitement to hatred and violent acts, as well as by revising legislation that can have discriminatory effects.”

These decisions in Geneva have consequences at home.

In 2012, during its first round of peer reviews at the UN, Indonesia rejected a recommendation from Spain to repeal the local law in Aceh province that criminalizes adult consensual same-sex conduct and prescribes punishment of up to 100 public lashes for offenders. The Indonesian government claimed the recommendation “did not reflect the actual situation in the province.” This May, two young men paid the price for the government’s negligence: Sharia (Islamic law) police raided their private home, detained and tried them, and flogged them 83 times while a crowd of thousands jeered.

The government of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo stayed silent – not even a whisper from the administration that touts “unity in diversity” as a core value. Diluted pledges at the UN don’t let them off the hook, though, for abetting a campaign of hate and the officials that support it.

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

Human Rights Watch welcomes the adoption of the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review of the Republic of Indonesia, which reflects recommendations to protect the rights of religious minorities, women and girls and urges the elimination of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE). The outcome also addresses government-promoted discrimination against people with disabilities, impunity for security forces’ abuses in Papua, the need for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty and accountability for past human rights abuses.   

We note that the Indonesian government accepted 150 such recommendations and urge it to fully implement them.

However, we are concerned that the Indonesian government chose to “note” rather than accept an additional 58 recommendations for reasons including that they “are not a priority in the national human rights agenda.” They include recommendations urging Indonesia to “put an end in law and in practice to violence and discrimination against women, violence and discrimination against homosexuals and female genital mutilation,” to “Repeal or revise legislation, notably the relevant provisions of the Aceh Islamic Criminal Code, which criminalizes sexual relations among consenting adults of the same sex, as well as legislation that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” as well as a recommendation to “Guarantee  the  rights  of  minority  groups,  particularly  those  of religious  minorities  and  lesbian,  gay,  bisexual  and  transgender  persons, through effective legal action against incitement to hatred and violent acts, as well as by revising legislation that can have discriminatory effects.” The government also rejected the recommendation that it “establish a moratorium on executions and ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.” We also note with concern that although the Indonesian government of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has publicly committed to accountability for past human rights abuses, including the mass killings of 1965-66, Indonesia rejected the recommendation that it “Thoroughly and transparently investigate past human rights abuses.”

The Indonesian government should accept and implement the recommendations of member states raised through its UPR process, rather than reject or ignore them.  The ultimate test of Indonesia's commitment to the UPR process is its demonstration of the necessary political will to address these and other longstanding human rights issues. The UN is watching.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A man shows his rainbow flag during the Gay Pride parade in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, July 30, 2006.

© 2006 Reuters

A Brazilian judge’s decision to overturn an 18-year-old ban on conversion therapy has put the spotlight on discredited sexual orientation change efforts.

The judge, Waldemar de Carvalho, overruled a 1999 decision by the Federal Council of Psychology that banned the treatment. One of the plaintiffs in the case is a psychologist whose license was revoked for offering the treatment and once described homosexuality as a “disease.”

The global public health consensus amongst professional medical associations is that conversion therapy – the attempt to change an individual’s sexual orientation – is ineffective, unethical, and potentially harmful. 

The World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1990, a shift from seeing homosexuality as an illness to a natural variation of human sexuality. There would likely be an uproar if a therapist tried to change a heterosexual into a homosexual, but the absurd logic is the same. “There is no way to cure what is not a disease,” says Rogério Giannini, head of Brazil’s Federal Council of Psychology.

In 2016, the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), an association of national psychiatric societies across 118 countries, condemned the practice as “wholly unethical,” and the Pan American Health Organization warned in 2012 that conversion therapies “lack medical justification and represent a serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people.” 

A 2015 joint statement issued by 12 United Nations agencies, including the World Health Organization, called for an end to “unethical and harmful so-called ‘therapies’ to change sexual orientation.”

Around the world, medical associations have condemned the practice, including in India, South Africa, Lebanon, Thailand, Turkey, Philippines, and the United States, where the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychological Association have condemned conversion therapies on scientific and ethical grounds.

The practice is also ineffective. In the US in 2015, four men and two of their parents successfully sued Jews Offering Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) under New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act for false advertising in conversion therapy ‘success’ statistics and mischaracterizing homosexuality as a mental illness. Similarly, in China, in 2014, a Beijing court sided with a young gay man who had undergone conversion therapy in a private clinic. The clinic was ordered to pay compensation for “false advertising” and “ineffective treatment.”

In attempting to cure a nonexistent disease, the psychologists at the center of the case are acting against international medical consensus that so-called “conversion therapies” are ineffectual, unethical, and potentially harmful.   

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

Interior Ministry officers guard the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community rally "VIII St.Petersburg Pride" in St. Petersburg, Russia August 12, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

A Russian court will soon decide whether posts that Evdokia Romanova, a Russian activist, made on social media back in 2015 amount to “gay propaganda” – a charge that could result in a fine for the accused and a further blow to freedom of expression in Russia.

If the court convicts Romanova, it would be at least the seventh conviction under Russia’s 2013 federal “gay propaganda” law that effectively prohibits any positive information about “non-traditional sexual relations” from public discussion.

Romanova is accused of sharing information on Facebook about the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, an international group that advocates for young people’s access to accurate information about health and sexuality. The group believes that information and education are vital for safeguarding the life, health, and well-being of young people.

The purported rationale behind Russia’s “gay propaganda” ban is that portraying same-sex relations as socially acceptable and of equal value to heterosexual relations supposedly threatens the intellectual, moral, and mental well-being of children. In other words, the law perpetuates the lie that being gay or lesbian poses a danger to children.

While supporters of the law claim it protects children, the ban in fact directly harms them by denying them access to essential information and perpetuating stigma against LGBT children and family members. The law has rightly been condemned by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the European Court of Human Rights, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe , and the Council of Europe.

Romanova’s case clearly shows that Russia’s “gay propaganda” law is just a flimsy excuse to discriminate against LGBT people. Factual, positive, and affirming information about sexuality and health is essential for all children. For LGBT children who frequently feel isolated and vulnerable, this information can be life-saving. 

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

Bruce Rabb, Co-Chair

Ali Miller, Co-Chair   

Stewart Adelson

Tamara Adrián

Ise Bosch

Mauro I. Cabral

Randall Chamberlain

Daniel Costello

Julie Dorf

Susana Fried

Matty Hart

Alli Jernow

Pieter Ligthart

Wanja Muguongo

Sebastian Naidoo

Arvind Narrain

Andrew Park

Graham Robeson

Cynthia Rothschild

Sid Sheinberg

John Taylor

Maxim Thorne

Reid Williams

Masa Yanagisawa

Human Rights Watch Board of Directors 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Indonesia's Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo speaks to journalists about the upcoming executions at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, Indonesia April 28, 2015.

© 2015 Reuters

Indonesia’s Attorney General’s Office announced this week that it had rescinded a job notice that not only barred lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) applicants, but suggested homosexuality was a “mental illness.”

Indonesia’s National Human Rights Commission had urged the attorney general to withdraw the job notice. Its commissioner, Muhammad Nurkhoiron, denounced the “mental illness” argument, saying that, “Such a policy should not be used by any state institutions, including the Attorney General’s Office.”

This shift in tone was an important reversal for a government that for the past year and a half has taken virtually no action to stand up for Indonesia’s beleaguered LGBT community.

Beginning in January 2016, public officials fueled a flurry of anti-LGBT incidents across Indonesia with noxious and hateful rhetoric. This has included police raids on suspected gatherings of LGBT people, the restriction of international groups providing aid to LGBT-related nongovernmental organizations, and the closure of public transgender events. Authorities forcibly evicted LGBT people from their homes, and Islamist militants attacked LGBT activists.

There were also subtle bureaucratic shifts – with Indonesian government agencies and health professional associations joining the anti-LGBT chorus. For example, the National Children’s Protection Commission issued a decree against “gay propaganda” and called for censorship of LGBT-related information. The national professional association for psychiatrists proclaimed same-sex sexual orientation and transgender identities “mental illnesses.” And the Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization, called for criminalization of LGBT behavior and activism as well as forced “rehabilitation” for LGBT people. Several universities also banned LGBT applicants from enrolling as students.

In October 2016, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo broke his long silence on escalating anti-LGBT rhetoric by defending the rights of the country’s LGBT community. He declared that “the police must act” against actions by groups or individuals to harm LGBT people or deny them their rights, and that “there should be no discrimination against anyone.”

But until the attorney general corrected its job ad this week, no government agency had taken action to dial back the anti-LGBT bigotry compromising the safety and freedoms of many Indonesians.

The attorney general’s move should stand as an example of leadership for the rest of the government.

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

“As pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists, we care about the health and dignity of all children,” the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) wrote in response to a report on intersex youth that Human Rights Watch launched in July.

This weekend, as the AAP, an organization of 66,000 pediatricians across the United States, convenes in Chicago for their annual gathering, we urge members to stand by this commitment and discuss establishing clear AAP guidelines to protect intersex kids across the country.

Intersex people – whose chromosomes, gonads, and sex organs don’t match up with what is generally considered typically “female” or “male” – make up nearly two percent of the human population.

One of the reasons we hear so little about intersex people is that doctors often perform surgery on them when they are still infants to make their bodies appear more unambiguously “female” or “male.” Some physicians argue that the irreversible interventions make it easier for kids to grow up “normal” or avoid bullying or harassment. But the results are often catastrophic, and the supposed benefits largely unproven. It is rare that urgent health considerations require immediate, irreversible intervention.

One of the many risks of doctors operating on children’s gonads, internal sex organs, and genitals when they are too young to participate in the decision is that a sex is assigned that does not match the individual’s lived gender identity as it develops. Other risks include incontinence, sterilization, loss of sexual sensation, scarring, and psychological trauma.

In our report, we recommended the AAP develop a policy on medically unnecessary and non-consensual surgeries on intersex children that is consistent with APP standards on Assent, Informed Permission and Consent, and on female genital mutilation.

Chicago’s LGBT center, the Center on Halsted, has welcomed the AAP to the city and encouraged them to endorse a moratorium on medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex kids. Human Rights Watch and interACT are joined by United Nations experts, the World Health Organization, Amnesty International, every major LGBT legal organization in the US, three former US surgeons general, and intersex-led organizations around the world in calling for an end to medically unnecessary non-consensual surgeries on intersex kids. The American Medical Association Board of Trustees this year recommended respect for intersex children’s rights to autonomy and informed consent.

It’s time for the AAP to do the same. 

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

A wedding cake at a reception for same sex couples is seen at The Abbey in West Hollywood, California, July 1, 2013.

© 2013 Reuters

For the second time in less than two months, the US Justice Department (DOJ) has bent over backward to undermine LGBT rights in pending lawsuits.

In July, the DOJ unexpectedly filed an amicus brief in Zarda v. Altitude Express, arguing that LGBT people are not protected from workplace discrimination under federal law. The case is a dispute about whether the prohibition on sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 encompasses discrimination against LGBT people.

Last week, the DOJ filed another brief in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case pending before the Supreme Court. The department defended a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, arguing that his right to free expression would be violated if the state enforced a law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation against him.

These filings look like the start of a worrying pattern. The DOJ isn’t a party to either case and there was no need for it to intervene. And in Zarda, the department attacked the position of another federal agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which had argued that Title VII does protect lesbian, gay, and bisexual workers. 

In both cases, the DOJ seems to be looking for opportunities to whittle away at current interpretations of non-discrimination laws that shield LGBT people from prejudice in employment, housing, healthcare, and access to goods and services. This stance marks a sharp departure from years of civil rights enforcement that sought to expand these laws and promote equality.

These DOJ moves come at a perilous time for LGBT equality. In recent years, opponents of LGBT equality have sought religious exemptions for healthcare facilities and adoption and foster care agencies funded or licensed by the state. These laws have been enacted in several US states, including South Dakota, Alabama, and Texas.

The DOJ’s recent filings seem to display great concern for the rights of those who seek to discriminate against LGBT people, and little interest in protecting LGBT people from hate and prejudice. If the DOJ is going to be an effective champion of civil rights for all people, it needs to meaningfully stand up for LGBT equality, and do it now.


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

The Australian government will let people “have their say” on same-sex marriage. The Australian High Court ruled Thursday that the government’s postal plebiscite can proceed, so next week ballots will arrive by mail, asking voters: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” This non-binding vote has been criticized for being a “glorified opinion poll” and a symptom of the country’s parochial and paralyzing politics. Since the elected parliament could simply pass a marriage equality bill, the plebiscite seems little more than a costly and unwieldy bit of political pageantry.

Activists stand next to a banner as they listen to speeches during a rally supporting same-sex marriage in Sydney, Australia May 31, 2015. 

© 2015 Reuters

But the plebiscite carries a less obvious cost in human dignity.  Other countries around the world that have voted on marriage equality in recent years—including those endorsing it—show how this type of spectacle can leave deep wounds against an already marginalized community.

Australia is no longer one of 73 countries that forbid same-sex intimacy. Neither does Australia have laws—as other countries do—that curtail the right to free expression or inhibit freedom of association for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Sydney is host to the world-renowned Mardi Gras LGBT pride festival. But Australia does not allow same-sex marriage, lagging behind the 22 countries, including New Zealand and the United States, that do.

Employing direct democracy to cast ballots on individual rights is dangerous. Ireland upheld LGBT rights when the majority Catholic country voted overwhelmingly in favor of marriage equality in 2015. Bermuda’s June 2016 referendum rejected same-sex marriage. But regardless of the outcome, such votes are like letting the electorate decide whether domestic violence should be criminalized. Or whether an unpopular ethnic minority should enjoy freedom from discrimination. Or whether members of a religious group can openly practice their faith.

While the votes in Ireland and Bermuda had different outcomes, the process of the referendum cast a similarly disturbing shadow. In both countries, the referendums forced LGBT people to open their lives and identities to public debate, scrutiny, evaluation, and sometimes abuse.

In Australia, it means gay and lesbian brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and neighbors have to ask their kin, their community, and total strangers, “Are you OK with me getting married?” What that really means is:

“Do you see me as your equal? Is my love as true as yours? Is my family as valuable?”

And while polls suggest that many Australians are ready for same-sex marriage, holding a plebiscite gives a tacit legitimacy to objections that include equating homosexuality with bestiality to scare tactics claiming that marriage equality will limit religious freedom.

And that vitriol comes in addition to the sustained and intense scrutiny these vulnerable communities will have to endure.

LGBT Australians shouldn’t have to run that gauntlet for their rights to be respected.

While the plebiscite does not bind the parliament, it is expected that the Turnbull government will not endorse a marriage equality law unless there is a majority yes vote. The government should not be able to let itself off the hook on a matter of basic rights.

It is perpetuating a dangerous practice by asking Australians—most of whom are not directly affected by the inequality in the Marriage Act 1961—whether they are ready for a minority to enjoy equal rights. The government should demonstrate the same decisiveness as the New Zealand parliament, which took the responsibility upon itself.

Making people beg for their rights is not just. While Australia may be on the brink of joining the right side of history on marriage equality, there are ways to get there that fully uphold human dignity.

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

Hate crimes against LGBT people in the UK have surged by nearly 80 per cent in recent years, according to a new detailed survey.

A poster advertising the exhibition, "Queer British Art: 1861-1967" at the Tate Britain museum in London, United Kingdom, 2017.

© 2017 Graeme Reid/Human Rights Watch

The report by British group Stonewall, based on a survey of 5,000 participants, showed that 16 percent of LGBT people reported experiencing a hate crime, up from 9 percent in 2013. Only a small proportion of cases are reported to authorities.

Among the other survey results:

  • Almost 60 percent of gay men feel scared to hold hands in public.
  • Over one in five respondents were verbally insulted or physically attacked due to their sexual orientation or gender identity in the last year. Racial or ethnic minorities are even more vulnerable, and a disproportionate number of transgender people experienced hate crime.
  • Hate crimes – which include physical assault, unsolicited sexual advances, harassment, intimidation, or insults – are dramatically underreported. Four in five LGBT victims of hate crimes or incidents in the past year failed to report it to the police, largely because they felt they would not be taken seriously by authorities.

A previous study had found hate crimes against LGBT people increased 147 percent in the three months after the Brexit referendum vote in June 2016.

In London, last week, I visited Queer British Art 1861-1967 at Tate Britain. The exhibition is a microcosm of queer life between two legal bookends: 1861, when the death penalty for ‘sodomy’ was abolished in Britain, and 1967, when sex between consenting men was decriminalized. One of the most compelling pieces on display is a door from Reading Gaol, believed to be from the cell in which Oscar Wilde was imprisoned and ruined. While the iconic image from the 1950s is a black and white photograph of three men, charged with ‘conspiracy to incite buggery’ under a British law forbidding male same-sex intercourse, also known by reform proponents as ‘the Blackmailer’s Charter.’

The exhibition is a useful reminder that it is only 50 years since sex between consenting men was decriminalized in Britain. Yet the Stonewall survey begs the question: how effectively is the scourge of hate crime being addressed?

Underlying the low reportage is a lack of trust in the police. Groups in Britain are rightfully calling for increased training of police officers, and a more responsive criminal justice system. The public expression of queer desire may have moved from Reading Gaol to Tate Britain, but it is alarming that holding hands in public is still both daring, and dangerous.  

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

A two-and-a-half-year old born with intersex traits walks with her parents in their garden. The parents have decided to defer all medically unnecessary surgeries until their child can decide for herself.

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

Earlier this year, some leading specialist pediatricians told me that they routinely advise parents of infants to consider surgery on their baby’s sex organs to decrease suicide risk later in life. The claim is not based in medical data, and it’s unethical for a doctor to offer an understandably confused and concerned new parent irreversible and entirely non-urgent surgery to avert a hypothetical future harm.

So why is it happening?

I spent the past year interviewing intersex adults, parents of intersex kids, and doctors who specialize in treating them. Once called “hermaphrodites,” intersex people make up nearly 2 percent of the population—their chromosomes, gonads, and sex organs don’t match up with what we consider typically male or female. One of the reasons we hear so little about intersex people is that based on a now-invalidated medical theory popularized in the 1960s, doctors often perform surgery on them in infancy. They generally say the goal is to make it easier for kids to grow up “normal.” But as our recent report showed, the results are often catastrophic, the supposed benefits are largely unproven, and there are rarely urgent health considerations requiring immediate, irreversible intervention. One of the many risks of surgery is assigning the wrong gender.

“It is harmful to make sex assignments based on characteristics other than gender identity,” Dr. Deanna Adkins, the director of the Duke University Center for Child and Adolescent Gender Care testified in a North Carolina court: “[I]n cases where surgery was done prior to the ability of the child to understand and express their gender identity, there has been significant distress in these individuals.”

A groundswell is taking place right now to put an end to the risks Dr. Adkins points out.

My organization, Human Rights Watch, is joined by the United Nations, the World Health Organization, Amnesty International, every major LGBT legal organization in the US, three former US surgeons general, and all intersex-led organizations around the world in calling for an end to medically unnecessary non-consensual surgeries on intersex kids. The American Medical Association Board of Trustees this year recommended respect for intersex children’s rights to autonomy and informed consent.

But some physicians refuse to accept that the status quo is harmful.

Today, on Suicide Prevention Day, the interviews with the two doctors who advocated early surgery are ringing in my ears.

One pediatric urologist acknowledged that it was possible to raise a child as either gender without surgery. But, citing transgender suicide attempt rates, he said: that if he were to abstain from sex assignment surgery on intersex children, it would result in “97 percent of [his patients having] gender dysphoria.” He said this puts him in a difficult position. He explained: “That carries a 40 percent risk of suicide. Not thinking about suicide. Suicide. Actually doing it, or trying to do it. That is an astoundingly large number…So that's a hell of a burden.”

To suggest that sex assignment surgery on an intersex kid saves them from a future suicide attempt is not only intellectually dishonest, but it skirts the actual issue.

First, while the fear of harassment of their children is a legitimate and palpable experience for all parents, surgical operations on intersex children have never been demonstrated to prevent bullying. True, data show that transgender people in the US carry a 41 percent risk of a suicide attempt in their lifetime, compared with 4.6 percent of the overall US population. But the risk is driven by factors that include discrimination and harassment—and in some cases ill-treatment by doctors— not by whether their genitals match their gender identity.

Second, performing surgery on intersex kids does not ensure their genitals will match their identity. Studies have found rates of gender assignment rejection among intersex children ranging from 5 to 40 percent, depending on the condition. Contrary to that urologist’s assertion that leaving his intersex patients intact would cause gender dysphoria, irreversible surgery may leave them with bodies that don’t match their identities.

Third, children should have the right to negotiate these complex social dynamics for themselves as they grow, and decide when and whether to have surgery—instead of having these decisions forced upon them. A recent investigative report from the Dominican Republic, where most intersex kids are left intact, showed that social awareness, and parent and teacher response help mitigate bullying —as with any other kid.

It is indeed a hell of a burden—but not for the doctor.

Rather it’s a burden on the parents of intersex kids who told me they felt bullied by doctors into choosing these high-risk cosmetic surgeries. And it’s a burden for the kid who will grow up permanently physically scarred and thinking of their body as shameful, in need of “fixing” by a scalpel.

Intersex kids deserve better—especially from doctors who specialize in their care. And no parent should have to wonder if a pediatrician is telling the truth.

We need to outlaw these surgeries on kids too young to decide for themselves that they want them—except in instances of true, data-driven medical need—to protect children from harm that can endure for the rest of their lives. It would protect parents from the mendacious wordplay that continues in clinics today. And it would allow intersex kids to thrive and get support when they need it.

As a father of a two-year-old with an intersex condition told me: “The world can be a hard place for people who are different and I am not naive to the fact that this could create some social difficulties for my daughter.” He and his wife visited multiple specialists, many of whom threatened social outcomes based on hypothetical understandings of what it might be like to grow up with a body that’s a little different from most people’s. The father said: “I don't think the solution is to subject her to anesthesia and perform a surgery, without her consent, that's irreversible.”

Parents are looking for medical advice from providers charged with interpreting data and protecting life and limb. Certainly it’s not a burden for doctors to avoid frightening parents with incomplete and inaccurate information.

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

Nur Qistina Fitriah Ibrahim, a transgender woman from Singapore, was arrested in Abu Dhabi on August 9 on charges of “being disguised as a woman.”

© 2017 Nur Qistina Fitriah Ibrahim
(Washington, DC, September 7, 2017) – The United Arab Emirates should stop arbitrarily arresting transgender, gay, and gender non-conforming people on the grounds of a law that criminalizes men “disguising” as women, Human Rights Watch said today.

On August 9, 2017, Emirati police in Abu Dhabi detained two Singaporean nationals in a shopping mall. A court convicted them of crimes and sentenced them to one year in prison "for attempting to resemble women." The UAE deported them on August 28 after they spent nearly three weeks in custody, much of that time in a cell they said was designated for “effeminate” people.

The two Singaporeans, Muhammed Fadli Abdul Rahman and Nur Qistina Fitriah Ibrahim, told Human Rights Watch they were wearing jeans, sneakers, and long-sleeved button-down shirts at the time of their arrest. Fadli, a cisgender male fashion photographer, said he wore a chain around his neck and has an ear piercing and a nose piercing, while Ibrahim, a transgender woman who works as a model, had long hair. Police told them their arrest was on the grounds of “looking feminine.”

“It’s bad enough that the UAE is arresting people solely on the basis of hairstyles and accessories, which the police rely on to make wild guesses about people’s gender identities,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Worse, the authorities are going far beyond the letter of the law, which only applies to spaces designated for women – not shopping malls.”

The two arrived in the UAE on August 8 to meet with clothing designers and organize a fashion shoot. Police charged them under article 359 of the country’s federal penal code, as well as article 58 of the emirate of Abu Dhabi’s local penal code. On August 20, a court sentenced them each to one year in prison. They were not represented by a lawyer in court. On August 27, an appeals court converted their sentence to deportation and a fine, and they were deported the next day.

Article 359 of the UAE’s federal penal code punishes “any male disguised in a female apparel and enters in this disguise a place reserved for women or where entry is forbidden, at that time, for other than women” with up to one year in prison and a fine of up to 10,000 dirhams (approximately US$2,723). Police arrested Fadli and Ibrahim in Yas Mall, Abu Dhabi’s largest shopping mall, which is not a place “reserved for women.”

Article 58 of Abu Dhabi’s local penal code punishes “violation of public morals” with up to two years in prison and a fine of as much as 15,000 dirhams (approximately US$4,084).

Other people are in detention in the UAE on the grounds of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Fadli told Human Rights Watch that he and Ibrahim were held in a cell that they called the “Detainees’ Apartment,” in which a nurse and other inmates told them that “effeminate” detainees are held, both in pretrial detention and after conviction.

A number of the other detainees told Fadli and Ibrahim the reasons for their arrest and detention, they said. They said the detainees included Emiratis, Moroccans, and Filipinas, most of whom said that they had been arrested solely for “looking feminine,” including two men who said they were arrested while in line at a movie theater; another man who said he was arrested at Yas Mall; a transgender woman who said she was arrested while wearing a work uniform because of her feminine-looking face; and a transgender woman who, like Ibrahim, had long hair but was wearing men’s clothing when arrested, in accordance with the “male” gender marker on her documents.

Fadli said another detainee told him he had been charged with sodomy and had been subjected to a forced anal examination, which constitutes a form of torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

Fadli and Ibrahim said that police and prison guards did not physically abuse or insult them, but that prison guards ransacked their luggage, threw out Ibrahim’s hormone pills, and shaved both of their heads. “Shaving my head – that was the most devastating part for me,” Ibrahim told Human Rights Watch.

Laws that criminalize people on the basis of their gender identity or gender expression violate the right to freedom of expression, protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They can also violate freedom of movement and freedom from discrimination on the basis of gender. Such laws punish transgender people’s very existence, as Ibrahim told Human Rights Watch: “I’m very feminine, and I can do nothing about it.”

As a state party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the UAE is obligated to prohibit all forms of discrimination against women, including on the basis of gender identity.

While article 359 of the Penal Code only criminalizes men who dress in women’s clothing and enter women-only spaces, the language used in judgment against Fadli and Ibrahim suggests that the law is being abused to target people perceived as gender non-conforming even when they are in mixed-gender public places, and that vague laws on public morals are also being misused to limit gender expression. The judgment, on file with Human Rights Watch, states that they were sentenced to a year in prison for “being disguised in women’s dress” and “violation of public morals by being in a public place appearing as women.” The judgment further states that they were “attempting to resemble women.”

The UAE government website says, “The UAE Government emphasizes on tolerance in the society. Moderation and acceptance of others are innate in the UAE culture.”

In accordance with these principles and with its obligations under international law, the UAE should cease all arrests on the grounds of gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, Human Rights Watch said. It should amend vague laws that punish “violation of public morals” so that such laws are not used to persecute people on any of these grounds. The UAE should release the other detainees held who have been arrested, sentenced, or are awaiting trial on these grounds, including those currently held at the “Detainees’ Apartment.”

“The UAE describes itself as an ‘ideal tourist destination’ and a ‘safe place to work’, but when visitors can be arrested on such arbitrary grounds, it’s clear that the UAE is neither safe nor friendly for visitors or its residents,” Whitson said. “The government should live up to its own rhetoric about tolerance and openness, rather than cracking down on sexual and gender minorities.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am