“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 is an expert on LGBT rights. He has conducted research, taught and published extensively on gender, sexuality, LGBT issues, and HIV/AIDS. He is author of How to be a Real Gay: Gay Identities in Small-Town South Africa (University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2013). 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, where he continues to teach as a visiting lecturer. An anthropologist by training, Reid received a master’s from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and a PhD from the University of Amsterdam.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Russian blogger, Zhenya Svetski, stands with a sign reading “I am not ‘gay propaganda’” in Moscow, December 2018. 

© 2018 Dmitry Belyakov for Human Rights Watch
The European Court of Human Rights ruled this week that the Russian government must pay 42,500 euros in damages to three lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights groups for having refused their registration in recent years.

From 2006 to 2011, Rainbow House, the Movement for Marriage Equality, and the Sochi Pride House attempted to register their respective organizations with Russian authorities. The government denied their applications, claiming the organizations “will destroy the moral values of society” or “undermine [Russia’s] sovereignty and territorial integrity…by decreasing its population.”

Most perniciously, in denying Movement for Marriage Equality’s registration, the government construed LGBT rights activities as “gay propaganda,” and said the organization’s work amounted to “extremist activities.”

Formally called the law “aimed at protecting children from information promoting the denial of traditional family values,” the “gay propaganda” law – a classic example of political homophobia – bans the “promotion of nontraditional sexual relations to minors,” a reference universally understood to mean a ban on providing children with access to information about LGBT people’s lives. The ban includes, but is not limited to, information provided via the press, television, radio, and the Internet.

As it was debated and passed in 2013, the law contributed to an intensification of stigma, harassment, and violence against LGBT people in Russia. The law has been used to shut down online information and mental health referral services for children, and to discourage support groups and mental health professionals from addressing LGBT issues with children. It has further entrenched antipathy toward LGBT people.

The law has rightly been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the Council of Europe.

The European court’s new judgement, which found Russia responsible for discrimination and violation of freedom of association, is a cautionary reminder to the Russian government that the baseless and vitriolic gay propaganda law should be repealed.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
© 2012 Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch has joined with 61 organizations calling for the passage of a bill to decriminalize sex work in Washington, DC.

Last week, the groups sent a letter to the Council of the District of Columbia urging passage of the Community Safety and Health Amendment Act 2019, which would repeal statutes that criminalize adults consensually engaging in sexual exchange, while upholding existing laws prohibiting sex trafficking. The signatories represented a wide range of organizations working in racial and gender justice, LGBT rights, health, and civil liberties.

For sex workers in the US capital, who have long been subjected to police harassment (including police extortion of sex), arrests, discrimination, and violence, the bill is a beacon of hope. Human Rights Watch has interviewed sex workers in Washington, other US cities, and in countries ranging from Tanzania to South Africa to China about the impact criminalization has on their lives. We consistently found that criminalization makes sex workers less safe, driving them underground and creating conditions for appalling levels of violence, including rape and murder – a sad reality for sex workers in and around the District of Columbia. People of color, trans people, and members of other marginalized groups who sell sex are particularly at risk, as DC’s Sex Worker Advocates Coalition has argued. Many sex workers fear reporting crimes to the police; when they do, they face humiliation and even arrest. As Human Rights Watch has shown, use of condoms as evidence of sex work, including in Washington, is a deterrent to safer sex practice that undermines protection from HIV, sexually transmitted infections, and pregnancy.

Laws against sex work run afoul of international human rights law, including privacy rights. Sex work, distinct from trafficking, is about having a choice and not being treated as a voiceless victim. Arguments that sex work should be banned to “protect” sex workers disregard their agency. What sex workers need is not condescension and invasion into their private lives, but support in achieving decent working conditions.

As New York State and other jurisdictions also look to decriminalizing sex work, DC’s councilmembers should act immediately to schedule a hearing on the Community Safety and Health Amendment Act. As the letter to the DC Council sets forth, “The time for justice for people who trade sex in DC is now.”

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

July 2, 2019

The Council of the District of Columbia
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004

Re: Support B23-0318, the “Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019”

Dear Chairman Phil Mendelson, Councilmember Charles Allen, Councilmember Anita Bonds, Councilmember Mary M. Cheh, Councilmember Jack Evans, Councilmember Vincent C. Gray, Councilmember David Grosso, Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, Councilmember Elissa Silverman, Councilmember Brandon Todd, Councilmember Robert White, Jr., and Councilmember Trayon White, Sr.:

We, the undersigned organizations, urge you to support B23-0318, the “Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019.”

This bill would increase public health and safety in the District by removing criminal penalties associated with sex exchange. Specifically, the bill repeals statutes that criminalize adults consensually engaging in sexual exchange, upholds existing laws prohibiting sex trafficking including of people under 18, and establishes a task force to evaluate the impact of decriminalization and the need for additional steps to improve community safety.

This approach is not new, and it has proven results. Sex work has been decriminalized in New Zealand since 2003,[1] and this approach is gaining momentum in the United States as the Community Safety and Health Amendment Act moves forward in DC and similar legislation is introduced in New York.[2]

  1. Criminalization of Sex Work is Ineffective and Harmful

Criminalization of sex work has a greater negative impact on communities already facing discrimination, including communities of color, gender nonconforming and nonbinary people, members of the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities, immigrants, and people with criminal convictions.  Many sex workers in Washington, DC are Black and brown trans and cis women, gender nonconforming and nonbinary people, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Nationally, around 20 percent of trans people have engaged in sex work in their life, and this number increases to nearly 40 percent for Black trans people.[3] Many turn to sex work to survive after experiencing discrimination or abuse and being denied access to employment, housing, and healthcare.

Criminalization increases violence against sex workers, especially survival sex workers, by exposing them to police harassment and brutality and by creating additional obstacles to safe and stable housing, employment, and healthcare due to arrest and incarceration.

Street-based sex workers engaged in survival sex work often bear the brunt of criminalization. Research shows that over 80 percent of street-based sex workers experience violence in the course of their work.[4] In DC, among the surveyed sex workers who had been approached by police, nearly 40 percent were verbally abused, and one in five said that an officer asked them for sex.[5]  Criminalizing sex work perpetuates stigma against people who face already high rates of violence, subjecting them to harassment, dehumanizing comments, and risk of experiencing violence.

“I’ve been picked up by a police officer before, and I’ve been told that either you give me [sex] or you’re going to jail,” says Louraca, a Black trans sex worker organizing for sex work decriminalization in DC. This experience is common in the District and sex workers rarely feel safe enough to report these harms. In November 2018, two trans sex workers reported that police officers in Prince George’s County and DC were using the threat of arrest to coerce them into having sex with the officers, requesting anonymity for their safety.[6] In DC, when incidents were actually reported to law enforcement, 75 percent of sex workers reported being dissatisfied with police response.[7]

Criminal penalties for consensual sexual exchange often harm the most vulnerable while fostering violence and exploitation. While criminalizing sex work is often touted as a means to prevent trafficking, it can actually increase vulnerability to trafficking for the sex workers who are criminalized, due to fear of arrest, discrimination, and loss of income, particularly with the recent loss of internet platforms through SESTA/FOSTA.[8] Criminalization of sex work also impedes trafficking enforcement because witnesses are less likely to report evidence of coercion or trafficking to authorities if they fear arrest.[9]

As Police Chief Peter Newsham has said, “we can’t arrest our way out of prostitution.”[10] Our response to poverty and lack of traditional employment must be based in supportive services and housing. The District will not solve anything by criminalizing people for doing what they need to survive.

  1. Removing Criminal Penalties Will Help Improve Public Health and Safety

Removing criminal penalties for engaging in sexual exchange reduces public violence and protects sex workers. Criminalization of sex work only leads to a cycle of violence, poverty, and incarceration. Sex workers tell us this, and the research shows us this, as well. 

A meta-review published in PLOS Medicine in December 2018 analyzed 134 studies about sex work from 1990 to 2018 across the world, and found that the policing of sex work is associated with increased risk of violence and increased risk of HIV and other STIs for sex workers.[11] They recommended pursuing legal reforms to remove criminalization and investing in social services for and by sex workers.[12]

  1. Reduces Vulnerability to Exploitation and Violence

People in the sex trade are safest when their work is not criminalized, because they are able to screen clients, to negotiate safer sex practices, and to report incidents of client and police violence.[13] A study in nearby Baltimore demonstrated an association between sex work criminalization and client-perpetrated violence.[14] After criminal penalties were removed in New Zealand, sex workers reported that they were more likely to report a bad incident to the police and 61.9 percent of street-based sex workers reported they were more able to refuse a client.[15]

While most sex workers are not coerced or trafficked, sex workers are in the best position to identify who is being coerced or trafficked, and removing criminal penalties allows them to be full partners in efforts against exploitation.[16] In fact, in 2019, Mexico City passed legislation to decriminalize sexual exchange as part of their effort to combat human trafficking.[17]

  1. Promotes Public Health

Addressing sexual exchange as a public health matter improves the connection to services, increases the ability to negotiate safer sex practices, including condom use, and reduces the transmission of infectious diseases, including HIV and other STIs.[18]  After decriminalization in New Zealand, sex workers reported increased ability to negotiate safer sex with clients.[19]

The criminalization of sex work is a worldwide problem, necessitating comprehensive solutions. Around the world, criminal laws on sex work prevent sex workers from accessing health and legal systems that should serve them. Criminalization of sex work has a profound and costly impact on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of sex workers, especially Black and brown sex workers. Female sex workers, in particular, bear a disproportionate burden of HIV[20] and also experience significant unmet needs related to family planning, safe pregnancy, safe abortion, and gender-based violence.

Criminalization serves as a key barrier to essential health services due to fear that seeking health care could lead to negative legal consequences. The World Health Organization’s guidelines on HIV prevention for key populations points to criminalization of sex work as a key “barrier to effective HIV services,” and recommends that countries “work toward decriminalization of sex work and elimination of the unjust application of non-criminal laws and regulations against sex workers.”[21] Global models suggest that decriminalizing sex work could lead to a 33 to 46 percent reduction in incidences of HIV acquisition among sex workers over the next 10 years.[22]

*          *          *          *          *         

The time for justice for people who trade sex in DC is now. The lives of sex workers and sex trafficking survivors depend on urgent action. Supporting sex workers benefits the safety of our entire community. Sex workers deserve to survive and to thrive.

The undersigned recognize that removing criminal penalties is only one tool to help promote the safety, health, and well-being of sex workers. Housing and employment discrimination, racial profiling and police harassment, poverty and homelessness, are just a few issues that also impact the lives of sex workers.


350 DC
Advocates for Youth
Allen Chapel AME Church
Black and Pink, Inc.
Black Lives Matter DC
Black Youth Project 100
Blacks in Law Enforcement of America
Casa Ruby
Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE)
Collective Action for Safe Spaces
DC Anti Violence Project
DC Area Transmasculine Society
DC Dyke March
DC For Democracy
DC for Reasonable Development
Defending Rights & Dissent
Free Speech Coalition
Harm Reduction Coalition
Human Rights Watch
In Our Own Voice: National Black Women's Reproductive Justice Agenda
Institute of the Black World 21st Century
International Indigenous Youth Council, DC
Jewish Voice for Peace
La ColectiVA
Lambda Legal
March for Racial Justice
Maryland Trans*Unity
Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition
Movement Voter Project
National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum (NAPAWF)
National Cannabis Festival
National Center for Lesbian Rights
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Coalition for LGBT Health
National Lawyers Guild, D.C. Chapter
National Survivor Network
Nelwat Ishkamewe
No Justice No Pride
Occupation Free DC (OFDC)
Positive Women's Network-USA
Reframe Health and Justice
Restaurant Opportunities Center DC
Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS)
St. James Infirmary
The Center for Constitutional Rights
The DC Center for the LGBT Community
The Future Is Feminist
The Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center
The W.I.R.E
Tits and Sass
Trans United
Trans-Latinx DMV
URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity
Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
Whitman-Walker Health
Woodhull Freedom Foundation


[1] Prostitution Reform Act 2003, New Zealand (2003), http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2003/0028/latest/DLM197821.html.

[2] Decrim NY, Legislators Intro First Statewide Bill to Decriminalize Sex Work, Decrim NY (June 10, 2019), https://www.decrimny.org/post/for-immediate-release-decrim-ny-legislator.... Other sex worker-led coalitions and organizations have been organizing for decriminalization in other parts of the country, too, including, for example, the national Sex Workers Outreach Project-USA, BAY-SWAN in California, COYOTE-RI in Rhode Island, CUSP in Alaska, and Harm Reduction Hawaii.

[3] James, S. E et al., 2015 US Transgender Survey, Nat’l Center for Transgender Equality (2016), https://www.transequality.org/sites/default/files/docs/USTS-Full-Report-... Erin Fitzgerald et al, Meaningful Work: Transgender Experiences in the Sex Trade, Nat’l Center for Transgender Equality (Dec. 2015), https://www.transequality.org/sites/default/files/Meaningful%20Work-Full....

[4] Revolving Door: An Analysis of Street-Based Prostitution in New York City, Urban Justice Center Sex Workers Project (2003)​, http://sexworkersproject.org/downloads/RevolvingDoor.pdf.

[5] Move Along: Policing Sex Work in Washington, D.C., Different Avenues (2008), https://dctranscoalition.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/movealongreport.pdf.

[6] Marina Marraco, Transgender Prostitutes Who Accused Cops in Sex Scandal Meet with US Prosecutors, Fox 5 DC (Nov 20 2018), http://www.fox5dc.com/news/transgender-prostitutes-who-accused-cops-in-s....

[7] Move Along: Policing Sex Work in Washington, D.C., Different Avenues (2008), https://dctranscoalition.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/movealongreport.pdf.

[8]Scott Cunningham, Gregory DeAngelo, Greg Tripp, Craiglist Reduced Violence Against Women, http://scunning.com/craigslist110.pdf; Rose Conlon, Sex workers say anti-trafficking law fuels inequality, https://www.marketplace.org/2019/04/30/sex-workers-fosta-sesta-trafficki...

[9] Erin Albright & Kate D'Adamo, Decreasing Human Trafficking through Sex Work Decriminalization, 19 AMA J. Ethics 122 (2017), https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/decreasing-human-traffickin...

[10] MPD Chief Peter Newsham, 2012 City Council hearing on Prostitution Free Zones.

[11] Lucy Platt et al., Associations between sex work laws and sex workers’ health: A systematic review and meta-analysis of quantitative and qualitative studies, 15 PLOS Med. (Dec. 11, 2018), https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1002680.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.; Gilian Abel et al, The Impact of the Prostitution Reform Act on Health and Safety Practices of Sex Workers (Nov. 2007), https://www.otago.ac.nz/christchurch/otago018607.pdf.

[14] Katherine Footer et al., Police-Related Correlates of Client-Perpetrated Violence Among Female Sex Workers in Baltimore City, Maryland, 109 Am. J. Pub. Health 289 (Feb. 2019), https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304809.

[15] Gilian Abel et al, The Impact of the Prostitution Reform Act On Health and Safety Practices of Sex Workers 15, 116 (Nov. 2007), https://www.otago.ac.nz/christchurch/otago018607.pdf.

[16] Erin Albright & Kate D'Adamo, Decreasing Human Trafficking through Sex Work Decriminalization, 19 AMA J. Ethics 122 (2017), https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/decreasing-human-traffickin... Sex Work is Not Sexual Exploitation, Global Network of Sex Work Projects (2019), https://www.nswp.org/sites/nswp.org/files/briefing_note_sex_work_is_not_....

[17] Christine Murray, Mexico City to Decriminalize Sex Work, Eyes Steps to Cut Trafficking, Reuters (June 2, 2019), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mexico-sexwork-trafficking/mexico-cit....

[18] Lucy Platt et al., Associations between sex work laws and sex workers’ health: A systematic review and meta-analysis of quantitative and qualitative studies, 15 PLOS Med. (Dec. 11, 2018), https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1002680; Cunningham, S. & Shah, M., Decriminalizing Indoor Prostitution: Implications for Sexual Violence and Public Health, NBER Paper No. 20281 (July 2014), https://www.nber.org/papers/w20281?utm_campaign=ntw&utm_medium=email&utm....

[19] Gilian Abel et al, The Impact of the Prostitution Reform Act On Health and Safety Practices of Sex Workers 13 (Nov. 2007), https://www.otago.ac.nz/christchurch/otago018607.pdf.

[20] See generally Shannon K. et al., Global epidemiology of HIV among female sex workers: influence of structural determinants, 385 The Lancet 55-71 (2015), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25059947.

[21] Consolidated Guidelines on HIV Prevention, Diagnosis, Treatment and Care for Key Populations, World Health Organization 86 (2016), http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/246200/9789241511124-eng....

[22] C. Beyrer et al, An action agenda for HIV and sex workers, 385 The Lancet 287 (2015), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25059950; HIV/AIDS: Sex Work, World Health Organization, http://www.who.int/hiv/topics/sex_work/about/en/.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A giant rainbow flag is displayed during Hong Kong's annual pride parade on November 25, 2017.

© 2017 Aaron Tam/AFP/Getty Images
Nearly 120 years after Hong Kong made sodomy punishable by a possible life sentence, a recent court ruling marks a further step toward completely decriminalizing same-sex relations.

In 2007, Hong Kong scrapped its British-era sodomy law. But, for over a decade, several remaining provisions in its Crime Ordinance continued to single out male same-sex relations, either through disproportionate sentencing or by specifically criminalizing sexual acts between men. In 2017, an activist, Yeung Chu Wing, brought a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of seven discriminatory provisions.

On May 30, the Hong Kong High Court struck down the four offenses that applied specifically to sexual relations between men and eliminated the discriminatory aspects of three other provisions. With this ruling, the court consolidated the decriminalization process by eliminating residual discriminatory provisions in the criminal code.

The efforts form a part of the global trend toward abolishing discriminatory colonial-era laws that criminalize same-sex relations. In 2018, courts in India and Trinidad and Tobago both ruled that laws that criminalized same-sex relations are unconstitutional. This year, Botswana decriminalized same-sex conduct, but there was a setback in Kenya, where the court upheld similar discriminatory laws.

Hong Kong’s justice secretary did not contest the four scrapped provisions. But she asked the High Court to retain the remaining three provisions by making them non-discriminatory.

The four uncontested provisions criminalized “procuring others” to engage in anal intercourse, “gross indecency” with or by a boy under the age of 16, “gross indecency” between men otherwise in private, as well as “procuring gross indecency” between men. All four were struck down as unconstitutional by the High Court. By doing so, the court was mindful that sexual offenses against minors are covered by other provisions that are gender-neutral and non-discriminatory.

The court explained in detail why the four provisions were unconstitutional. Judge Thomas Au eloquently grounded his analysis in the fundamental principle of equality, invoking article 25 of the Hong Kong Basic Law and article 22 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights. He reasoned that these four provisions punished sexual intercourse between men, while there are no comparable offenses between women or between a man and a woman. The court held that the differential treatment targeting sex between men is discriminatory in nature and violates equal protections.

The remaining three provisions were challenged because they imposed either differential sentencing or age of consent provisions that disproportionately punished sexual relations between men.

For example, one of the provisions punished “gross indecency with the mentally incapacitated” only when it is between men. In dealing with this provision, the court held that all terms “a man” must be read as “a person” for purposes of this provision. Through such remedial interpretation techniques, the court rendered the three provisions gender-neutral or equalized the age of consent, making them compliant with the constitution.

Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal struck down the city’s sodomy law in the 2007 case Secretary for Justice v. Yau Yuk Lung, reasoning that the law only criminalized sexual intercourse between men and was therefore unconstitutional. Following the same principle in applying the doctrine of non-discrimination, this current ruling extends equal protection by scrapping or by judicially interpreting the remaining discriminatory provisions in the Crime Ordinance — thus completing the decriminalization process in Hong Kong.

The criminalization of same-sex relations contradicts the fundamental principles of equality and nondiscrimination under international law. Repealing laws that punish consensual same-sex relations from statute books is an essential step toward eliminating discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.

The recent moves toward decriminalization demonstrate the significant role that the judiciary can play in safeguarding the rights of minorities, especially in communities with repressive and unjust laws. Despite residing in their different jurisdictions with different societal and cultural norms, a growing number of courts are in agreement that human dignity, autonomy, and equality must be afforded to all.

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

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people living in the Middle East and North Africa share their responses to myths and stereotypes about LGBT people in the region on a new video and special feature released today by the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality (AFE) and Human Rights Watch. Although these myths can be harmful, activists who spoke to AFE and Human Rights Watch for this video face them every day with grace, determination, and humor. In the video, they debunk these myths and share their experiences with other LGBT people in the region, letting them know they are not alone.

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

Rainbow flags fly outside the Stonewall Inn bar in New York, June 3, 2019.

© 2019 AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

On a summer night in 1969, a movement years in the making was invigorated and sparked at the Stonewall Inn.

On June 28, 1969, New York City’s then-underground queer community fought back against police oppression when officers raided the popular bar. The Stonewall riots became a pivotal moment in the history of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights movement.

This Pride Month, on the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, Human Rights Watch celebrates global progress towards decriminalization of consensual same-sex relations and marriage equality in a series of maps highlighting the state of LGBT rights around the world.

Since January, Angola and Botswana have decriminalized same-sex relations. Bhutan has taken similar steps, while Austria, Ecuador, and Taiwan have removed legal obstructions to same-sex marriage. Hong Kong’s high court struck down penal code provisions that discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation and recently granted same-sex spousal benefits, finding that “the absence of a majority consensus as a reason for rejecting a minority's claim is inimical in principle to fundamental rights.”

Botswana’s high court struck down “unnatural offenses” laws, stating any laws that “oppress a minority” amount to “discrimination against all.” Ecuador’s constitutional court, citing its constitution’s equality clause, ruled that authorities have an obligation to provide for same-sex marriage.

But a year worthy of celebration also witnessed setbacks. Kenya’s high court upheld its colonial-era discriminatory law and the US proposed reversing nondiscrimination policies protecting transgender people’s right to health. Brunei adopted an abusive penal code imposing the death penalty on sex between men, though responded to the international outcry by declaring a moratorium on capital punishment.

The fight will continue so long as governments do not fully respect and protect the “inherent dignity” and “equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” – as the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights eloquently pronounces – regardless of their gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.

Fifty years ago, those who had grown tired of running away from the authorities – transgender people, bisexuals, lesbians, gay men, runaway youths – stood up against oppression at Stonewall. They have inspired generations of activists and jurists around the world, who have worked tirelessly to overcome legal obstructions to equality. Much of the progress we see today is owed to their courage. While we share both joy and tears this Pride Month, we continue to carry the spirit of Stonewall forward. We must not let the light go out.

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

People protesting the Trump administration’s policies toward gender and gay rights in New York last year.

©2018 Yana Paskova

Today and tomorrow, voters will tune into the first primary debates of the 2020 presidential election. Unless lawmakers take meaningful action, transgender people in the United States will continue to face significant, well-documented barriers in exercising their right to vote. This issue deserves attention now from the candidates.

The 2020 contest already stands out for its attention to LGBT rights and voting rights. Pete Buttigieg is the first openly gay candidate to qualify for a presidential primary debate. The introduction of state and federal voting rights legislation has also drawn attention to electoral access in the 2020 race.

Few candidates, however, have spoken to the need to tackle the ways that voting restrictions affect transgender people’s right to vote. While it is often overlooked, the interplay of voter suppression, bureaucracy, discrimination, and high rates of incarceration disenfranchises transgender people. Candidates should identify in their policy platforms how they would concretely reform laws and policies that make it harder for transgender people to vote.

The most glaring form of voter suppression in recent years has been photo ID laws, which require voters to present certain forms of ID with a photo that matches their name. Photo ID laws have been promulgated by state governments across the country. The laws disenfranchise marginalized communities, including transgender voters who may have difficulty obtaining forms of ID that accurately reflect their name, gender, and appearance.

A 2018 study found that photo ID laws had the potential to inhibit the right to vote for 78,300 transgender people in eight states alone. The problem isn’t limited to states with photo ID laws. Transgender voters have also reported being turned away from the polls in places like Vermont, where voting laws are relatively unrestrictive.

The bureaucracy, fees, and onerous requirements to change documentation make rigid ID requirements a significant detriment to democratic participation. According to the Movement Advancement Project, 14 states have unclear or burdensome requirements such as a court order, proof of surgery, or an amended birth certificate to change a person’s driver’s license to accurately reflect their gender identity.

Even when voters aren’t directly turned away from the polls, these hurdles can discourage people from attempting to exercise their democratic right. Shawn Reilly, an organizer of transgender community programming in Nashville, told Human Rights Watch that “people just give up” on voting when faced with discriminatory laws and bureaucracy. 

Restrictions that aren’t on their face tied to gender identity can also disproportionately affect transgender voters, especially those of color and from low-income backgrounds.

Ohio and six other states have removed from the electoral roll “inactive” voters who fail to return a postal mail residency check. These types of purges can functionally exclude many transgender people, who face high rates of housing insecurity. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 30 percent of survey respondents reported experiencing homelessness during their lifetimes.

The practice of disenfranchising felons also disproportionately affects transgender voters. Transgender people are incarcerated at three times the rate of cisgender people. Rasheeda Johnson, who coordinates a support group for transgender women with HIV in Birmingham, Ala., told Human Rights Watch that many participants in the program have a felony record as a result of bias in the criminal justice system. Overcriminalization and selective enforcement contribute to felony convictions that strike transgender voters from the rolls for the duration of their incarceration and sometimes for the rest of their lives.    

For example, criminal laws make HIV transmission, non-disclosure, or exposure a potential felony offense in 33 states and territories. These laws are counterproductive in combating HIV transmission and used disproportionately to convict Black and Latinx people. Although less than half a percent of the U.S. population is estimated to have HIV, approximately 3 percent of transgender men and 14 percent of transgender women are HIV-positive; an estimated 44 percent of Black transgender women and 26 percent of Latinx transgender women are living with HIV. This disparity makes transgender people particularly susceptible to HIV criminalization.

Laws prohibiting sex work are also frequently used to incarcerate and disenfranchise transgender people. High rates of poverty and unemployment pressure some transgender people to engage in sex work, and transgender women of color in particular are often singled out by police. Sex work is criminalized in every U.S. state, and in at least seven states it can be punished as a felony. Convictions under now-invalidated sodomy laws also still stand in some states, leaving people with criminal records that can restrict their rights.

As the 2020 candidates pitch policy innovations, they should promote inclusion and accessibility in the right to vote. Facilitating legal gender recognition, lowering barriers to voting, ending felon disenfranchisement, and decriminalizing HIV transmission and sex work are good places to start. Measures such as expanding early, absentee, and mail-in voting are also essential. By making these issues part of the discussion now, candidates can encourage federal action and inspire state and local reforms to enfranchise transgender voters who are often left without a voice.

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

The New Year rang in little cheer for transgender women in Malaysia. On January 1, a trans woman was killed in Klang, a Kuala Lumpur suburb, the third such killing in Malaysia in fewer than two months. Her death remains under police investigation. Like so many trans women in Malaysia excluded from the formal employment sector, this woman was a sex worker. She died falling—or was possibly thrown—from a moving vehicle. The driver, presumably her client, was arrested in connection with the death. He told police she jumped from the car after stealing his mobile phone. Trans sex workers in Klang, however, are convinced she was murdered.

Just three weeks earlier, also in Klang, another trans sex worker was beaten to death. While police have opened investigations into both cases, they hastily determined that the killings were not hate crimes. Rights advocates are skeptical, but as one trans activist put it, “the deceased can’t speak for herself.”

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Malaysia face violence from both state authorities and civilian actors. In September 2018, a Sharia court sentenced two women to caning for purportedly attempting to engage in homosexual relations. State religious officials and police officers have also physically and sexually assaulted transgender women arrested during raids to enforce Sharia laws that prohibit “a male posing as a female.”

Several Malaysian trans women have reported abusive arrests have diminished since an appeals court struck down as unconstitutional a state “cross-dressing” law in 2014. Malaysia’s highest court overturned the ruling on a technicality, but trans women say advocacy and awareness-raising have restrained officials. Now, trans women primarily fear violence from ordinary people: clients, partners, or strangers, including vigilante groups seeking to rid the streets of trans women. But even when state agents are not the culprits of violence, they bear responsibility for propagating discriminatory beliefs that may lead to hate crimes and for failing to denounce violence when it takes place.

Malaysia held a historic election in May 2018, in which the United Malay National Organization (UMNO) party, in power since independence in 1957, was massively defeated. Fed up with abuses of power, voters cast their ballots for change. The new coalition government, led by the Pakatan Harapan party, has delivered to a certain extent, dropping politically motivated charges against many activists and investigating corrupt officials. Yet, it has pointedly refused to embrace LGBT equality. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has described “LGBT” as among “things we cannot accept,” while Pakatan Harapan leader Anwar Ibrahim has called for mobilization against “LGBT tendencies and their ideas.” Furthermore, the deputy home minister has condemned LGBT “culture,” and religious affairs minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa has promoted the scientifically discredited idea that LGBT people should and could “change” their sexual orientation or gender identity and return to the “right path.” 

Malaysia’s federal penal code, which dates back to British colonialism, punishes “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” with up to twenty years in prison. The country’s thirteen states and federal territories each have their own Sharia criminal enactment, applicable to Muslims. Almost all such state laws prohibit same-sex relations. They also prohibit “posing” as someone of a different sex, making Malaysia one of the few countries in the world that locks people up simply for being transgender. 

When religious authorities in Terengganu state, which is run by the opposition Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS), caned two women for lesbian acts, some ruling party officials voiced objections regarding the nature of the punishment, and PH leader Anwar Ibrahim suggested that same-sex relations should be decriminalized. Anwar should know: as the most famous casualty of Malaysia’s “unnatural offenses” law, he was twice imprisoned between 1999 and 2018 on politically-motivated sodomy charges. However, his party has taken no steps toward decriminalizing sodomy, nor toward persuading states to repeal anti-LGBT provisions in their Sharia enactments. 

Instead, the current administration continues its predecessor’s anti-LGBT policies, focusing on “rehabilitation” and prohibition of so-called “promotion of LGBT culture” (any form of LGBT visibility), while maintaining the threat of sanction through state and federal laws. The ethnically and religiously diverse Pakatan Harapan coalition appears determined to legitimize its Islamic credentials to bolster support among Malay Muslims, many of whom voted in favor of the long-ruling UMNO party or Islamist opposition parties in 2018. This battle for the Malay heartland, presumed to be socially and religiously conservative, causes politicians from across the political spectrum to emphatically adopt anti-LGBT positions. Activists argue that Pakatan Harapan’s unwillingness to ally itself with LGBT people’s struggle for equal rights and its silence in the face of hate crimes renders it complicit in those crimes, and that jockeying by politicians to avoid being seen as pro-LGBT fuels hate.  One clear battleground is online. Multiple LGBT people and rights activists have reported a spike in anti-LGBT hate speech on the Internet since the elections. In August, one trans-led group filed a police complaint about social media posts promoting anti-LGBT violence. Six months later, they had still not received a response

In this context, when eight men in Seremban assaulted a trans woman known as Suki in August 2018, beating her so severely that doctors had to remove her spleen, police who interviewed her in the hospital asked her why she thought she had been attacked. She responded with outrage: “They’re in the police station. Shouldn’t you be asking them instead of me?” In December, attackers pulled two men from a car in Kuala Lumpur and beat them for allegedly engaging in same-sex intimacy, then circulated a video of the assault on social media.

Police have made arrests in some of the recent hate-crimes cases. Two killings from 2017—one of a trans woman named Sameera Krishnan, stabbed and shot to death in Kuantan, and another of 18-year-old student T. Nhaveen in Penang, beaten to death by high school classmates who had bullied him for being “effeminate”—have resulted in ongoing prosecutions. Yet, when police refuse to acknowledge that acts of violence might be bias-motivated crimes, as they have with the killings of trans women in Klang, and when the authorities fail to condemn attacks, LGBT people are left feeling that the state does not support them. Even if perpetrators are brought to justice, a strictly punitive approach without a prevention strategy or meaningful change in political leaders’ approach to LGBT rights are all unlikely to stem the violence. A punitive approach also raises its own human rights concerns; a murder conviction, for instance, carries the death penalty in Malaysia. Many of the alleged assailants in these cases are young people who have been molded by societal and state-sponsored homophobia and transphobia. As long as authorities shut down positive portrayals of LGBT people while promoting a harmful “change” narrative, school textbooks portray LGBT people as deviant, and Malaysian law considers them criminals, impressionable young Malaysians may choose to take the law into their own hands.

Pakatan Harapan’s campaign manifesto promised to “make [Malaysia’s] human rights record respected by the world.” Malaysia must prioritize the right to life and the right to be free from violence—rights which currently elude many LGBT people. If Malaysia’s government wishes to address anti-LGBT violence, it must condemn the attacks and recognize that many of them are hate crimes. It should roll out a multi-pronged prevention plan, to include promoting public discussion of LGBT rights, removing harmful stereotypes from textbooks, discontinuing anti-LGBT state programs, and initiating legal reforms to advance LGBT equality. The police should undergo training in recognizing and investigating anti-LGBT hate crimes. Denial may be politically expedient, but lives are at stake. The deceased demand to be heard.


*Thilaga Sulathireh is with Justice for Sisters, an advocacy group working on human rights of trans and LGBTIQ+ persons in Malaysia.

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

Supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community participate in a Gay Pride parade in Mumbai, India, Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. 

© 2019 AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade


The picture is bleak for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in India. Many face harassment and bullying, and to avoid humiliation and violence they often skip classes or drop out of school altogether. Most teachers are not trained or empowered to respond to anti-LGBT bullying, so in many cases they don’t. In some cases, they even participate in the harassment.

Court judgments in recent years have laid the groundwork for better protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and the Indian government’s stance on LGBT rights has evolved considerably. But much more is needed to protect people on the basis of sexual and gender identity in India.

Two reports published this month shed much-needed light on the experiences of sexual and gender minority youth in India’s schools. UNESCO, the United Nations education agency, and the International Commission of Jurists, a nongovernmental organisation, have each published harrowing in-depth reports on the plight of LGBT Indians.

UNESCO’s research focused on youth and school environments, while ICJ’s was broader, and included an examination of housing, access to public spaces, and employment – with education analysed as a precursor. “Educational and training opportunities are often denied to LGBTQ persons due to harassment, bullying, and violence,” ICJ found, citing gender-specific school uniforms, lack of access to toilets, and difficulties in obtaining accurate identity documents as barriers for LGBT students. “Accounts of bullying in schools were common.” The report details cases of teachers beating and berating male students for acting “too effeminately,” and forcing transgender students to sit separately from their peers.

UNESCO surveyed 371 sexual and gender minority youth, and gathered in-depth information from more than 60 through focus groups in Tamil Nadu state. Eighty-four percent of participants reported being bullied, most by other students, but in one-fifth of those cases by a male teacher. Only 18% of those who were bullied said they reported the incident to school authorities.

Inadequate Responses

For those courageous enough to do so, school officials told nearly a third to change their gendered mannerisms to avoid future bullying, and half told them to ignore the incident altogether. The majority of respondents reported that they felt such incidents – and the poor responses from authorities – harmed their academic performance. Over a third of the students surveyed said that such bullying had contributed to a decision to drop out of school.

LGBT activists in India triumphed last year when the Supreme Court unanimously struck down section 377 of India’s penal code, which criminalised same-sex relations. Justice Indu Malhotra pointedly stated that “an apology [is owed] to members of the LGBT community… for the ostracisation and persecution they faced because of society’s ignorance”.

In 2014, the Supreme Court issued a sweeping judgment in NALSA v. India, which held that transgender people should be legally recognised according to their gender identity, enjoy all fundamental rights, and receive special benefits in education and employment.

But while legal changes are an important step, much more is needed for LGBT people in India to be able to live without discrimination and with dignity. Young people who are bullied in school are less likely to succeed and more likely to find themselves vulnerable to discrimination and violence as adults.

Human Rights Watch research in diverse settings across the world whether in South Africa, Kenya, Jamaica, or the US shows that vulnerability as adults correlates with negative experiences as children whether at home or in school. Shifting India to being a nation that protects sexual and gender diversity will require action by multiple ministries and agencies at both the national and state levels. This includes amending education laws to include a spectrum of gender – not just “male and female” students – and updating curricula to make them inclusive of diverse gender and sexuality communities so all students are receiving accurate information.

Useful Examples

Across Asia, there have been some promising advances to protect LGBT youth in recent years. For example, a 2013 law in the Philippines instructs schools to address bullying, and refers to sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2017, the government of Japan changed its national bullying prevention policy to specifically protect LGBT students. This came on the heels of aan Education Ministry directive that instructed schools to allow students to use restrooms and wear uniforms according to their gender identity – a policy that schools have started to implement.

Enumerating sexual orientation and gender identity in non-discrimination and anti-bullying policies is an important step toward acknowledging diversity, protecting vulnerable students. Training school staff empowers them to respond when they encounter abuse. Younger generations of Indians will grow up knowing of criminalisation as a thing of the past, and that will be a boon to their basic rights.

But as these two new reports show, there is much more the government should do to ensure they grow up in safety.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Over the past few years, there’s been a significant and much-needed increase in attention to the basic rights of intersex people. A documentary screening this week at the Human Rights Watch film festival in New York City, No Box for Me: An Intersex Story, tells two stories that show why that push is so necessary.

M is 27 years old. Deborah is 25. Like an estimated 1.7 percent of people, they were born with variations in their sex characteristics that differ from conventional understandings of male or female – often called intersex. For M, growing up intersex has also meant grappling with the fact that she underwent medically unnecessary surgeries to “normalize” her body as a child – before she could even understand what was happening to her. 

Intersex variations are medically benign, yet in the 1960s surgeons in the United States popularized “normalizing” cosmetic operations, such as procedures to reduce the size of the clitoris. 

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. And they continue today – in the US and around the world. Most recently, the European Parliament passed a resolution affirming intersex people’s rights to bodily autonomy and calling on governments to prohibit the non-consensual surgeries that have negatively impacted so many intersex people’s lives.  

In the film, when M meets Deborah online, she is introduced to new voices, language, and representations that help her understand who she is in more than just medical terms. At one point in the film, we “meet” Pidgeon Pagonis, an intersex activist and YouTube star from Chicago whom I met in 2017 to document their story. 

This tender documentary joins M, Deborah, and other brave young people as they seek to reclaim their bodies and explore their identities – revealing both the limits of binary visions of sex and gender and the irreversible physical and psychological impacts of non-consensual surgeries on intersex infants.

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