By Neela Ghoshal
When the news broke last week that a 41-year-old man from Kelantan had married an 11-year-old girl, alarm bells went off in Malaysia’s newly elected government as well as among nongovernmental groups.
The Kelantan state police started an investigation, and activists stepped up calls to legislate a minimum marriage age of 18, with no exceptions.
But some politicians saw the issue differently. Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah, the deputy head of government in Kelantan state, which is ruled by the opposition Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), said child marriage should not be “sensationalized” and does not violate religious principles. “The issue of zina [sex outside marriage], children born out of wedlock, gays and lesbians, are bigger issues for the country,” he said.
Bigger issues for whom? Human Rights Watch has thoroughly documented the impacts of child marriage on girls around the world: married girls are more likely to drop out of school, live in poverty, and to be victims of domestic violence, compared to women who marry after age 18. Child marriages often result in early pregnancy, which carries serious health risks - including death - for both girls and their babies.
Not only do Mohd Amar’s comments belittle girls’ rights, they also reinforce homophobic views.
The recently ousted Barisan Nasional government enforced discriminatory laws and promoted hostility towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
Former Prime Minister Najib Razak described LGBT people as “against Islam”; his deputy prime minister equated LGBT people with “negative values”; and the Health Ministry organized a competition according to which adolescents were to submit videos on how to “prevent” LGBT identities.
Law enforcement officials from state religious departments regularly arrest transgender women, subjecting many to degrading treatment. During a visit to Malaysia in April I interviewed LGBT people who described experiencing depression and even attempting suicide because of feeling that they don’t belong in their country.
The newly elected government, under Mahathir Mohamed, has an opportunity – and a responsibility – to remedy the entrenchment of state-sponsored homophobia and transphobia that started during Mahathir’s previous stint as prime minister.
It can do so by publicly condemning discriminatory comments like Mohd Amar’s and making clear that LGBT people are not an “issue” to contend with, but a group of people whose rights are entitled to be respected.
The government should reject the Najib government’s practice of demonizing LGBT people to distract attention from governance failures, begin discussion of overturning federal and state anti-LGBT laws, and focus on fighting the real scourges in Malaysian society, such as child marriage.
Published on HRW on July 6, 2018
Nahal smokes yet another cigarette on her mother's balcony overlooking Tehran, one of the few peaceful places the 19-year-old transgender woman has in Iran, where her identity can bring harassment and prying, judging eyes on the street.
Nahal recalled how she had hardly started high school before being forced to leave over her classmates' insistence she dress as a man. Her manicured fingernails, painted pink, brushed away her long brown hair as she looked through old photographs of her childhood, recounting how even her own family has struggled to accept her.
"I no longer see my relatives," she said. "Maybe I'm a sign that if your own children will have a similar problem later, you can accept it."
It shouldn't be like this for Nahal in the Islamic Republic, which — perhaps to the surprise of those abroad — has perhaps the most open mindset in the Middle East toward transgender people. The Shiite theocracy's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a religious decree, or fatwa, 30 years ago calling for respect of transgender people, opening the way for official support for gender transition surgery.
By Milena Buyum
“Most LGBTI people in Turkey today are living in more fear than ever before,” an activist tells me when we meet in a café in Istanbul on a cloudy day in February. She is too afraid for me to share her name.
“With the crackdown on freedom of expression, spaces for LGBTI people to be themselves are shrinking. They see no hope, no future. Many of us have either moved to other countries or are thinking of leaving.”
It is a far cry from the Turkey of even just a few years ago, when LGBTI organizations were increasingly visible and vocal - the last Istanbul Pride in June 2014 saw tens of thousands of people marching through the streets in a display of joyous confidence.
But all that is now a distant memory, especially since the crackdown that followed the failed coup attempt of July 2016.
For the last three years, Pride marches have been banned in Istanbul and Ankara, while other Pride events such as LGBTI film festivals have been shut down “due to social sensitivities”.
Last November, the Ankara Governorate used powers under the state of emergency, in place since the coup attempt, to impose an indefinite ban on all public events by LGBTI organizations in the city, citing “public safety”, “safeguarding general health and morals” and “safeguarding the rights and freedoms of others”.
These blanket bans threaten the very existence of LGBTI organizations and reverse the progressive trend that existed before the attempted coup to counter homophobia and transphobia.
But it is not just LGBTI organizations that are under fire.
A new report by Amnesty International published today reveals how an escalating assault on human rights defenders has devastated the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in Turkey, curtailed the vital work of organizations and left swathes of Turkish society in a state of constant fear.
Weathering the storm: Defending human rights in Turkey’s climate of fear reveals how precious few areas of Turkey’s once vibrant activist community have been left untouched by the ongoing state of emergency.
A nationwide crackdown has resulted in mass arrests and dismissals from public sector jobs, the hollowing out of the legal system and the silencing of human rights defenders through threats, harassment and imprisonment.
The state of emergency, declared as a temporary exceptional measure almost two years ago, was renewed for a seventh time last week, stretching its draconian rule to two years. Under its imposition, human rights have been decimated.
More than 100,000 people have faced criminal investigations and at least 50,000 have been imprisoned, pending trial, due to their perceived support for the coup. More than 107,000 public sector employees have been summarily dismissed for the same reason.
Anti-terrorism laws and trumped-up coup-related charges are used to target and silence peaceful, legitimate dissent. Prominent journalists, academics, human rights defenders and other activists have been subjected to arbitrary detention and - if found guilty in unfair trials - long prison sentences.
Osman İşçi, general secretary of the Human Rights Association, told Amnesty International: “The aim is to maintain the climate of fear. It is arbitrary. It is not predictable. It cannot be effectively challenged so there is impunity.”
Speaking to me in her office at the Istanbul university, human rights defender Professor Şebnem Korur Fincancı said: “I have a small bag ready at home”. She has it ready in case of a dawn police raid to detain her.
The crackdown on dissent has had an inevitably damaging effect on freedom of expression. Lawyer and human rights defender Eren Keskin, who is facing 140 separate criminal charges, said: “I try to express my views freely but I am also acutely aware of thinking twice before speaking or writing.”
Online posts can also land people in jail.
After the Turkish military offensive in Afrin, Northern Syria, began on 22 January 2018, hundreds of people who expressed their opposition to the operation were targeted.
By 26 February, 845 people were detained for social media posts, 643 people were subject to judicial proceedings and 1,719 social media accounts were under investigation in connection with posts about Afrin, according to the Ministry of the Interior.
Meanwhile, more than 1,300 NGOs have been permanently closed down under the state of emergency for unspecified links to “terrorist” groups. They include organizations that once carried out vital work supporting groups such as survivors of sexual or other gender-based violence, displaced people and children.
“There is now a huge gap in the provision of advice and support to survivors. It really breaks my heart,” Zozan Özgökçe of the Van Women’s Association told me. The organization, which helped raise children’s awareness of sexual abuse and provided training in leadership and financial literacy for women, is one of those closed down.
Many LGBTI organizations are also among those shut down. Those that remain have reported a sharp increase in intimidation and harassment targeting individuals or planned events.
Extraordinary measures are becoming increasingly normalized in Turkey – with human rights activists often the target. Yet as I found when I travelled the country over the last couple of months, in spite of this onslaught there are still brave people willing to stand up and speak out.
“In Izmir, Istanbul and Ankara we can still meet each other but it is getting very hard. We used to have about 30 associations around the country - most of them are now closed and not functioning,” the LGBTI activist told me. And like many others, she is not giving up hope just yet.
Published on AI on April 26, 2018
Nadir Cardozo proudly displays her ID card. Nadir is a transgender woman, and since Argentina passed the Gender Identity Law in 2012, she and others have had the right to have their personal documents issued with the name and gender of their choice. This measure has enabled many women like Nadir, who once shied away from visiting a health center for fear of ridicule and discrimination, to do so and take care of her health.
“The paradigm has shifted, and progress has been made in some areas, but there have been setbacks as well. There is still a lot of intolerance, but there are positive changes that were unthinkable 20 years ago,” says the 46-year-old Argentine, who has worked for many years to promote respect for the rights of transgender people, including the right to health. “The problem is that change is slow, and many trans women are dying,” she says.
An important step forward was the passage of the national Gender Identity Law in 2012. It allows personal documents to be issued with the name and gender of a person’s choice without requiring a previous psychological or medical evaluation. It also makes sex reassignment treatment part of the Programa Médico Obligatorio (“Compulsory Medical Program”), thus guaranteeing coverage across all the health systems in Argentina.
Nadir came to Buenos Aires from the northern province of Jujuy at the age of 20, facing a hard road ahead, with many challenges. She recently got her first formal job at the age of 45: a position in Fundación Huésped, an organization devoted to promoting sexual and reproductive health rights, with a focus on communicable diseases.
“The law represented a 180-degree turn,” explains Nadir, “but workforce inclusion and access to education and health are still lacking.” In other words, social determinants of health such as those mentioned by Nadir are still key to achieving universal health, which is the theme of this year’s World Health Day, promoted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
Blueprint for the provision of comprehensive care for transgender peopleTransgender people face a range of health problems that reflect their vulnerability. High levels of exposure to violence, mental health issues, a high prevalence of sexually transmitted infections, high consumption of alcohol and other psychoactive substances, the adverse effects of self-administered hormones, and reproductive health issues are some of the problems documented in the report Blueprint for the Provision of Comprehensive Care for Trans Persons and their Communities in the Caribbean and Other Anglophone Countries, published jointly by PAHO/WHO and several organizations working in this field.
According to this publication, Argentina reports an HIV prevalence rate of 34% among trans persons, the group most affected by the epidemic. The Argentine Association of Transvestites, Transsexuals and Transgenders (ATTTA in Spanish) participated in the report’s development. The challenges are many. “Today, many trans persons live from day to day, and the majority of trans women are sex workers. They come alone from the provinces and are not covered by social security. When they go to a hospital, they are sometimes laughed at, and if managers have not received training, are treated like men. This leads some of them to avoid contact with the health services,” Nadir says.
Efforts to raise awareness are moving forward on two tracks: civil society organizations are working to educate the population about the rights of transgender persons and at the same time, to empower that community to exercise those rights.
Trans-friendly health servicesThree public hospitals—Muñiz, Ramos Mejía, and Fernández—in Buenos Aires have “transliving (Transvivir) areas,” where a group of health promoters makes rounds to visit the trans patients, provide them with essential information, offer support, and verify that they are in wards corresponding to their gender preference. This service is managed by ATTTA.
Several hospitals in the country also have inclusive outpatient clinics that provide care for the LGBT community. “Ideally, these clinics should not exist,” says Nadir. “Everyone should be seen in a general clinic. Trans persons should have jobs, and equality should be a reality. However, we are in a transitional period.”
There are positive signs, however. Nadir points to Casa Trans (“Trans House”), a community center for the training and empowerment of transgender people founded in Buenos Aires in 2017 by ATTTA and the municipal government. At Casa Trans, “we have a high school program where trans people can complete their primary and secondary education and obtain an official diploma,” Nadir says, adding that she is confident that transgender students today “are going to have a different experience than many of us did.”
Published on The Pan American Health Organization website on April 19, 2018
Written by Sandra Abd'Allah-Alvarez Ramírez
Translated by Kitty Garden
Fabricio Alvarado Muñoz and Carlos Alvarado Quesada will vie for president of Costa Rica in a closely contested election scheduled for April 1, 2018. Defenders of human rights and the LGBTQI community are concerned that if religious candidate Fabricio Alvarado wins, they face grave risk.
Fabricio Alvarado, a psalmist and Christian singer, belongs to the Partido de Restaruación Nacional (National Restoration Party–PRN), representing the most conservative party on the Costa Rican political scene. Carlos Alvarado Quesada represents Partido Acción Ciudadana (Citizen Action Party–PAC).
Costa Rican feminist groups are most alarmed by Fabricio Alvarado's campaign proposal to convert the National Institute of Women (a ministerial institution) into the “Family Institute.”
During the campaign for the first round of votes, Fabricio Alvarado focused his political platform on the rejection of sexual education currently delivered in public schools as well as “gender ideology“, a concept circulating among conservative political circles that rejects the idea of gender as a social construct.
To the surprise of many, Fabricio Alvarado won the second round with 25 percent of the vote.
A threat to LGBTQI rights?
The Inter-American Human Rights Court issued a Consultative Opinion (OC 24/17) in response to a 2016 request by the Costa Rican government. OC 24/17 mandates the State to guarantee certain individual rights linked to same-sex couples and the personal construction of gender identity.
Fabricio Alvarado declared opposition to the ruling as part of his campaign platform, earning him the support of the most conservative and religious groups in the country.
The consequences of this debate have seriously impacted the LGBTQI community. According to the Front for Equal Rights, reports of verbal and physical attacks on sex-diverse people have multiplied since the election.
On February 3, independent journalist Diego Delfino highlighted the seriousness of Fabricio Alvarado's proposal to withdraw from the Inter-American Human Rights Court. For Delfino, Fabricio Alvarado's position constitutes a threat to the advancement of human rights:
All the applause and recognition we receive abroad for the abolition of the army would fall away if we become a country that rejects the American Convention on Human Rights signed in 1969 […] Imagine what a global disgrace, Costa Rica, flirting with the Middle Ages and asking to enter the darkest corners of fundamentalism that still exist on the planet.
Fabricio Alvarado began his public life in the evangelical community and professed his vision for a secular government “but not without God.” He sat at the center of several controversies including the prohibition of elected deputies from making statements to the media and avoiding debates and interviews with the press.
Speaking to Global Voices, activist Julia Ardón explains:
Fabricio doesn't attending debates where his appearance has been already confirmed and announces a “top notch” economic team, a “dream team” selected from the private banking sector, neoliberal economists, with no solid proposals but clearly committed to privatization and the dismantling of the Welfare State, while also showing a complete disdain for respect for human rights and the government's social commitments.
Political and citizen alliances try to counterbalance
Fearing the rise of fundamentalism, various unprecedented initiatives arose throughout the country. The first “Coalition for Costa Rica” meeting took place on February 10 and was called by students and youth from various parties as well as participants with no political affiliation.
The common objective of the Coalition is to support the Partido Acción Ciudadana (Citizen Action Party–PAC) presidential candidate Carlos Alvarado whose platform includes human rights referring to LGBTQI people, even though a significant number of Costa Ricans reject the idea of equal marriage.
The following video explains the Coalition's vision and mission.
[In the video]: On Saturday February 10 hundreds of people came together in the first meeting of the Coalition for Costa Rica. This was replicated in many parts of the country throughout the day and is planned to continue all week. Working groups were formed based on cantons (administrative divisions) and common interests, regardless of political preferences. Because #WhatUnitesUs is stronger. On April 1st let's vote for Costa Rica.
On February 5, Leftist party Frente Amplio (Broad Front) called for supporters to vote against PRN candidate Fabricio Alvarado. Leonardo Garniere, former Education Minister of the Partido de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Party–PLN) has explicitly expressed support for Carlos Alvarado's government programme, among other Costa Rican political personalities.
Former Health Minister María Luisa Ávila, also from PLN, confirmed that she while she would not join the PAC, she would still vote for Carlos Alvarado in the second round:
What we have here is a balance and we have to decide. In my case, I went for Carlos, who has experience and a modern position on human rights. I think he is a young man with the opportunity to show that he has learned from his own party's mistakes. […] Furthermore, this is not me joining PAC, it's just support for this second round.
PLN's founder Enrique Obregón expressed his concern for the state of the contest and the narrowness of the decision which voters are facing:
We have a protestant pastor who came out of nowhere, with a non-existent political party and who, suddenly (with the intention of governing from a religious position) finds himself with an unexpected level of popular support. And on the other side, a young man who has only just begun to take his first steps in politics, with a party that has some history but whose government is very much in question, led by a man who had never been a member of the party but who had the sceptre of the presidency fall into his lap. This is the hard reality that Costa Rican citizens are facing with no alternative, no other possibility.
Former presidential candidate Rodolfo Piza, from the Social Christian Union Party (Partido Unión Social Cristiana, PUSC), has been the most-discussed alliance. On Thursday, March 8, Piza signed an agreement to establish a national government with PAC, according to La Nación:
Carlos Alvarado can help us to guarantee a government for all Costa Ricans and guarantee respect for their rights and respect for equality and equity (…). I could have just let things run their course, but my participation in politics is an exercise of responsibility.
Several polls show that Fabricio Alvarado could win the April 1 vote. Nevertheless, the last analysis released by the University of Costa Rica predicts a technical stalemate with Carlos Alvarado with 43 percent of the vote and Fabricio Alvarado with 42 percent.
Meanwhile, young and progressive circles are focusing on rallying people to vote by combating abstentionism that reached 34 percent in the first round. LGBTI defenders are depending on it.
Translation of this article was published on Global Voices on March 27, 2018
By Kyle Knight
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein is urging Indonesia’s government to scrap clauses in a new draft criminal code that would discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. “[If] Muslim societies expect others to fight against Islamophobia, we should be prepared to end discrimination at home too,” he said at the conclusion of a three-day visit to the world’s largest Muslim country. “Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or any other status is wrong.”
Since 2016, Indonesia’s sexual and gender minorities have been under siege, including hateful rhetoric from government officials, attacks on LGBT human rights defenders, raids on lesbian-owned houses and private gay clubs, and arrests under a vague and discriminatory anti-pornography law. In 2017, police and public order officials arbitrarily arrested more than 300 LGBT people in raids. Zeid observed that the anti-LGBT moral panic was, “being cultivated seemingly for cynical political purposes.”
In December 2016, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court dismissed a petition seeking to criminalize all consensual sex outside of marriage, as well as adult consensual same-sex conduct – something the country has never done, except in Aceh province where Sharia (Islamic law) applies. In May, two men were publicly flogged in Aceh after neighbors caught them naked together.
The court’s decision protected the basic privacy rights of all Indonesians, not only LGBT people. With some estimates that as many as half of Indonesian couples do not get legally married because of difficulties registering, criminalizing their sex lives could embolden vigilantes and overwhelm police and prison systems. After the court’s ruling, the petitioners pledged to redouble efforts to amend the Criminal Code in parliament, where it is currently under debate.
Zeid urged Indonesia to, “resist attempts to introduce new forms of discrimination in law.” And in its December ruling, the Constitutional Court issued a similar warning: “If one builds an argument that to maintain societal order is to force members of the society who acts in a manner considered deviant to change their behaviors through threats of criminal punishment, he or she basically believes that societal order can be created under repressive measures only.”
Published on HRW on February 8, 2018
By Astrid Zweynert
Sami, an intersex asylum seeker in Britain, used to be gripped with fear at bedtime.
The slender and feminine El Salvadorian had almost got used to incessant verbal abuse but having to share rooms with other male asylum seekers was what Sami feared for the most.
“I was scared to death,” said Sami, 20, who arrived in Britain in 2016 and was first housed in temporary accommodation in the northern cities of Manchester and Liverpool with other asylum seekers.
“It was hard to be sharing with another male whom I didn’t know and especially because I am a bit feminine. All that time it was at the back of my head, who is going to be coming into the room? You could be asleep and just get attacked.”
Intersex people are born with sex characteristics that do not fit typical notions of male or female bodies. Up to 1.7 percent of people are born with intersex traits, according to the United Nations.
Sami, who asked to use a pseudonym, is one of the more than 3,500 people who claimed asylum in Britain based on their sexuality, gender identity or intersex status between 2015 and 2017, according to the Home Office (interior ministry).
Sami faced threats and discrimination in El Salvador, a conservative Catholic country where gay sex is not illegal but lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTi) people endure harassment and violence.
They face rocketing levels of violence from criminal gangs and members of the security forces, rights group Amnesty International said last November.
In more than 70 countries being LGBTi is not safe, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), a federation of national and local organisations dedicated to achieving equal rights LGBTi people.
Even though Britain is more tolerant, LGBTi asylum seekers still face discrimination, threats and even violent attacks, said Sebastian Rocca, chief executive of Micro Rainbow International (MRI), a charity working to eliminate discrimination and poverty among LGBTi people.
“One of the problems that LGBTi asylum seekers and refugees face is that because of their sexuality they are extremely isolated and vulnerable,” Rocca said.
Lack of safe housing is a widespread problem as they are often placed in housing with people from their own countries, or with those who are anti-gay because of their religious and cultural backgrounds.
“The majority of LGTBi asylum seekers do face some violence or abuse, whether that’s physical, sexual or psychological abuse,” Rocca told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Such abuse reawakens previous traumas. MRI’s clients have reported experiencing the same fears they felt in their home countries, Rocca said.
A PLACE TO CALL HOME
MRI set up Britain’s first safe house for LGBTi refugees and asylum seekers last October and has since opened a second one.
Apart from safe accommodation, residents are provided with psychological support, life-coaching and business training.
Sami moved in last autumn and, for the first time in years, feels safe and at home.
“The fear and uncertainty living in these other places was killing me. Now I finally feel safe because I live with people who respect me,” Sami told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in the cozy house on the outskirts of London.
“I know I can wake up and just do my make-up and be able to fully express myself without having to be afraid that someone is going to attack me or that someone is going to be judging me.”
Malik, a gay man from Bangladesh, who came to Britain in 2011, agrees.
“Since I moved into the house, I‘m happy. I have found a family,” said Malik, 35, in whose home country gay sex is illegal and many people strongly disapprove.
Leading LGBT rights activists Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy were hacked to death in Bangladesh in April 2016, amid a spate of violent attacks against secular bloggers, academics, gay rights activists and members of religious minorities.
Malik found out for himself how entrenched anti-gay attitudes are in his country when his mother disowned him and his brothers threatened to kill him.
“Last time I talked to my mum, she told me ‘you just humiliate me, don’t come back’. And I can’t go back because my brothers are going to kill me,” Malik said, sitting on his bed in a bright, well-furnished room in the safe house.
Malik said he used to live with heterosexual people in Britain and even though he was never physically attacked, he suffered verbal abuse, especially from other Bangladeshis.
“They don’t attack just physically but mentally attack the whole time,” he said.
Home Office data shows an estimated 6 percent of asylum claims made in Britain between July 2015 and March 2017 were based on sexual orientation. Around a quarter of those applications were successful.
The nationalities with the highest number of asylum claims where sexual orientation was raised were Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Nigerian.
The Home Office said it “remains committed to improving the process for those claiming asylum on this basis” and that it ensures housing provide to LGBTi asylum seekers is safe.
“Housing providers are contractually required to take account of any particular circumstances and vulnerability of those that they accommodate, including sexual orientation or gender identity,” a Home Office spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
Campaigners say a lack of protection for LGBTi asylum seekers is a widespread problem in Europe. In Germany, LGBT asylum seekers have complained about intimidating comments made during their asylum interviews. In Ireland, many face threats and from other asylum seekers in accommodation centres.
Rights groups blame the problem on a lack of basic training on LGBTi rights for those making decisions about asylum claims and interpreters.
MRI, which supports eight asylum seekers and refugees with safe housing, says much more is needed and aims to provide safe housing for more than 150 LGBTi asylum seekers by 2019.
“The need in this country is massive. There are hundreds of LGBTi asylum seekers every year who need a safe place to be,” said Rocca.
Published on Reuters on January 15, 2018
By Jeffrey S. Trachtman
With LGBTQ rights under open attack by the Trump administration — witness the recent summary firing of the entire HIV/AIDS advisory council — many are counting on the Supreme Court to stand against the backlash and preserve recent gains. But if the recent sharply divided oral argument in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case is any indication, a majority of the Court may be ready to screw up civil rights law to forestall full LGBTQ equality.
How else to interpret the agonized wrestling with what ought to be an easy case? Colorado’s public accommodation law bars sexual orientation discrimination on the same basis as race, creed, color, sex, and other suspect classifications. That means if you own a store open to the general public, you cannot refuse to sell goods to anyone based on their membership in a protected group. Period. At least it should be period.
If Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips had professed a sincere religious belief that God intended people to marry only within their own race – and therefore refused to let an interracial couple order a custom wedding cake – his claimed exemption from Colorado’s civil rights law would have been laughed out of court.
Mr. Phillips’ lawyer, Kristen Waggoner, admitted as much under tough questioning by Justices Sotomayor and Kagan. She didn’t have much choice, because the Supreme Court rejected as frivolous nearly 50 years ago a claimed religiously based right to exclude African Americans from lunch counters.
But, Ms. Waggoner, argued, “race is different.” How so? Well, if Mr. Phillips turned away an interracial couple “we know that that objection would be based on who the person is, rather than what the message is.”
Huh? It’s pretty clear that Charlie Craig and David Mullins were turned away from Masterpiece Cakeshop precisely because of who they were – a gay couple trying to buy a wedding cake. There is no indication that Mr. Phillips refuses to bake cakes for Jews, interfaith couples, atheists, or anybody else whose marriages don’t fit his religious model – just same-sex couples.
Half the Court (Justice Kennedy always being a toss-up) seemed to recognize that this is the essence of discrimination. Any “message” that Mr. Phillips wishes to send about his religious objection to same-sex couples marrying is trumped by his basic civic obligation – having opened a public bakery – to sell the same products to all. And that was the result reached just this week by an Oregon state court in a very similar case.
If we would “know” this more instinctively in a race case, that’s only because of an arduously built social consensus that remains more fragile for LGBTQ rights. As Justice Sotomayor pointed out, “America’s reaction to mixed marriage and to race didn’t change on its own. It changed because we had public accommodation laws that forced people to do things that many claimed were against their expressive rights and against their religious rights.”
Recognizing that consensus, Ms. Waggoner further argued that, even if a racial exclusion was motivated by a policy “message” rather than the identity of the customer denied service, a claimed exemption could still be overruled by the “compelling state interest” in eradicating racial discrimination.
But what about the compelling interest in ending anti-LGBTQ discrimination? Remember, this is not about the still-contested issue of whether sexual orientation should be treated like race under federal constitutional law. Here, Colorado is enforcing its own statute protecting sexual orientation on the exact same basis as race, sex, and religion.
David Cole of the ACLU, arguing for the plaintiffs, crystalized the danger in these arguments: that to justify exempting Mr. Phillips from the Colorado law the Court might “draw a distinction” that would “constitutionally relegate gay and lesbian people to second class status, even when a state has chosen, as Colorado has done here, to extend them equal treatment.”
That’s why Justice Kennedy’s skepticism of Colorado’s enforcement action was so alarming. By suggesting that the state has been “neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’ religious beliefs,” that “accommodation” was “quite possible” because “we assume there were . . . other good bakery shops that were available,” and that the focus on plaintiffs’ identity (rather than Mr. Phillips’ message about marriage) “is just too facile,” Justice Kennedy seemed poised to carve out an exception to civil rights enforcement that he would never entertain for racial discrimination.
And once that happens, there are two likely scenarios, both disturbing: Either the courts apply the precedent to start recognizing “good faith” free speech and religious objections to serving other minority groups (basically gutting civil rights enforcement), or they limit the exception to LGBTQ discrimination (thereby formalizing second-class status for LGBTQ people even under fully inclusive statutes).
Justice Kennedy may only be flirting with this disaster. He also noted that putting a sign in the bakery window saying “we do not bake cakes for gay weddings” would be “an affront to the gay community.” And he may realize not only that his legacy is at stake, but also that the equal dignity principles underlying his historic gay rights decisions require the Court to preserve traditional, evenhanded enforcement of public accommodation statutes. He may yet recognize that this is about full participation in society, not access to baked goods.
But on this as with so many other issues coming to a head in 2018, we’re at a scary and dangerous moment.
Published on December 30, 2017
The lives and safety of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex people (LGBTI) from violence-ridden El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are at an increased risk as authorities in their countries fail to protect them, leaving them with no choice but to flee their countries and face further dangers in Mexico, Amnesty International said in a new report today.
No Safe Place uncovers the treacherous journey faced by gay men and trans women refugees fleeing rocketing levels of discrimination and gender-based violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras from criminal gangs and members of security forces. It also accuses Mexican authorities of failing to protect them from violations and abuses while travelling through the country, and highlights unbearable experiences during prolonged and systematic immigration detention in the USA.
“People are facing vicious discrimination in Central America due to their gender identities, and have absolutely nowhere to run for safety,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
“Terrorized at home, and abused while trying to seek sanctuary abroad, they are now some of the most vulnerable refugees in the Americas. The fact that Mexico and the USA are willing to watch on as they suffer extreme violence is, simply, criminal.”
El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have some of the highest murder rates on earth –
81.2 per 100,000 inhabitants in El Salvador, 58.9 in Honduras and 27.3 in Guatemala, according to official figures.
Most refugees and asylum-seekers who spoke to Amnesty International said constant discrimination and the levels of violence they suffered in their countries – including physical attacks and financial extortion at the hands of criminal gangs and killings – made them feel they had no choice but to flee.
The high levels of impunity and corruption in their countries mean authorities are unlikely to punish those responsible for crimes against LGBTI people, particularly when security forces are responsible for the attacks.
According to the Honduran NGO Cattrachas, 275 LGBTI people were killed in the country between 2009 and 2017. In most cases, those responsible were never brought to justice.
Carlos, from Honduras, was forced to flee to Mexico after he was violently attacked and threatened with death by a criminal gang for being gay.
He told Amnesty International, “I never tried reporting [the abuse] because of what happened to some friends. As soon as a friend of mine reported the abuse, those who had committed it went to his house to get him. That’s why he ran away to Mexico. Another friend was killed right after he reported what had happened to him.”
A frightening journey
Amnesty International found in the cases documented that the brutality suffered by gay men and trans women in Central America does not end after they leave their countries.
Most of the people interviewed for the report said they suffered further discrimination and violence, including at the hands of public officials, in Mexico, where high levels of violence against LGBTI people in general are reported. Many also said they didn’t feel safe in the country as many of the criminal gangs who threatened them back home operate across the southern Mexican border.
According to a study by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, two thirds of the LGBTI refugees from Central America they spoke to in 2016 and 2017 had suffered sexual and gender-based violence in Mexico.
Several gay men and trans women also told to Amnesty International that they were never properly informed about their rights to seek asylum in Mexico, despite the extreme danger they would face if sent back home. They also complained that Mexican authorities did not inform them of any progress regarding investigations after they reported having suffered human rights abuses there.
Carlos told Amnesty International that, while in Mexico, immigration officials tried to discourage him from filing an asylum request. He eventually applied for asylum regardless and is still awaiting a decision.
A number of trans women who managed to survive the dangerous journey across Mexico and crossed the border to the USA complained of the treatment they received in detention. Others were deported from the USA and Mexico and sent back to their countries, to the nightmare they were desperately trying to escape from.
Cristel, a 25-year-old trans woman from El Salvador, told Amnesty International she was held in solitary confinement in US immigration facilities as soon as she crossed the Mexican US border to the USA in April 2017.
After a week, she was put in a small cell with eight men. Cristel eventually failed to secure asylum and was returned to El Salvador, where criminal gangs continue to threaten her.
“I don’t want to be illegal. I just want to live and be safe,” Cristel told Amnesty International.
“The more authorities in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and the USA fail to take action to protect some of the most vulnerable people in the Americas, the more blood they will have on their hands,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.
“These governments must urgently take decisive action to tackle the epidemic levels of violence against LGBTI people in the region and improve their policies and practices to ensure that all those who are in need of international protection can access it.”
Published on AI on November 27, 2017
By Kanae Doi
The 30-year anniversary revival broadcast of a popular Japanese television show “Tunnels” sparked public outrage when an episode that aired in late September featured “Homoo Homooda,” a character crafted around offensive stereotypes of gay men, and a cabal of other characters who joined in the chorus of anti-gay remarks during the program.
It was a harsh reminder of times past – albeit not ancient history. It was just seven years ago when Tokyo’s governor publicly called gay people “deficient,” and two years ago when another politician tweeted that gays were “abnormal.” But while “Homoo Homooda” seemed to still live in his 1980s world, Japanese society has moved on.
The broadcast sparked a public outcry; 104 groups and individuals – including prominent business executives and opinion leaders – submitted a letter of complaint to Fuji TV and the program’s sponsors the following day. Many activists also shared their personal childhood experiences on social media, recalling how they felt uncomfortable and scared of being bullied by classmates who imitated “Homoo Homooda” at school.
During a regular media briefing on September 29, the president of Fuji TV, Masaki Miyauchi, apologized for any part of the program that created discomfort, but did not say whether the company was planning to take any steps in response to the criticism.
Japan has no legislation protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people from discrimination and does not grant legal recognition to same-sex couples. It also treats transgender people requesting legal recognition as having “Gender Identity Disorder” and coerces them into undergoing unnecessary and invasive medical procedures.
However, the country has experienced dramatic changes in public attitudes toward the issue over the past few years. Some municipalities now recognize same-sex partnerships, and the national government has taken some steps toward bringing its policies in line with its international human rights obligations, including its revision in March of the Basic Policy for the Prevention of Bullying to include LGBT students.
Whether the government’s progress recognizing that LGBT people have the same right to dignity as everyone else in Japan will be reflected in an evolving Japanese media is an open question.
Published on HRW on October 4, 2017.