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gay_rights_in_the_phillipines
LGBT groups continue to face discrimination in the Philippines, and gay rights are currently a hot topic in the country.

The Philippines is a predominately Catholic country, and even though there has been an attempt for gay rights in the past, sexual harassment is a major issue.

LGBT protection against workplace discrimination, or any other form of discrimination, is being discussed in the Philippines, with the goal of promoting an honest understanding of what these people face in terms of work, marriage, adoption and health care.

In the Philippines, same-sex marriage is illegal and therefore same-sex couples cannot adopt. Over the past few years new laws were extended to protect against discrimination, but the struggle for recognition of gay rights remains.

Hate crimes, particularly against transgender people, are still a large problem. Likewise, limited employment for people who identify as LGBT  remains a major issue. Many members of the LGBT community in the Philippines feel that their physical and mental development has been affected through discrimination while in the workplace.

Legislative laws are up for discussion to help prevent violent hate crimes against the transgender community.

Many members of the LGBT community also feel emotional abuse while attending school. Some younger members want to get through school without being noticed, in fear of being discriminated against or physically attacked.

Many transgender women experienced sexual violence and rape after coming out as transgender in school.

At times, law enforcement officers refuse to help members of the LGBT community, especially as many officers are not properly trained to handle these matters and thus the problems can go unresolved or reoccur.

LGBT members of the Philippines hope for a future with gay-friendly businesses so that there can be equal opportunity for all. Furthermore, they hope for more representation in politics, proper training for police officers and an end to hate crimes toward their community.

The fight against these issues must begin in the school systems and beyond. These LGBT groups are growing up in fear and being rejected from society, and the emotional and mental toll must be stopped.

– Rachel Cannon

Sources: IGLHRC, The Wall Street Journal
Photo: Radio Australia

On December 11, 2013, Manoj Thorat embarked on a four-hour train ride from Pune to Mumbai, India. He was going to The Humsafar Trust headquarters, a community-based organization of Indian LGBT individuals, which is the largest of its kind in the country. On this day, the LGBT community across India would hear news of a pivotal Supreme Court decision – whether Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code would be deemed constitutional or not.

The Section rules against sexual intercourse “against the order of nature,” and was mainly used to target homosexual individuals.

Thorat wanted to be in Mumbai to celebrate what he thought would be a step forward for the entire Indian LGBT community, because he was almost positive that Section 377 would be deemed unconstitutional. His friend picked him up from the train station and they took a taxi to Humsafar, where live results of the decision were being broadcasted.

But, to Thorat’s immense disappointment, the decision was different from what he had predicted – the Supreme Court pronounced homosexuality illegal in India.

“The first reaction which I had is fear,” Thorat said. “I was really scared, as I am an open gay, that [the decision] made me a criminal suddenly. I was sad thinking about my future, community’s future, and moreover India’s future.”

As time went on, though, Thorat realized that life would go on much the same, and they must keep fighting. In the days following the decision, strikes and pride events rippled throughout the major cities in India and newspapers burst with information about the movement.

Thorat was not afraid to do his own part to speak out.

After the verdict, the LGBT community filed a review petition to the government, but it was rejected. Now, Thorat said the last legal option is a curative petition, which they filed and will have an open hearing sometime this July.

Thorat said he was nervous about the results of the prime minister election this year. He decided to give the majority party BJP under new Prime Minister Narendra Modi a chance to see if they will make changes for the LGBT community.

While BJP did not mention anything about the movement or Section 377 in their manifesto running for office, Thorat said that anything will be better than the current Congress’s approach to the issue.

Throughout the 60-year period that Congress was in power, Thorat said that nothing was done about gay rights.

“It is good that they got majority,” Thorat said of the BJP. “But, I think before making any decision, the party will have to consider that the world is watching them.”

The LGBT community in India did get one victory this past April, when the Supreme Court created “third gender” status for transgenders, or hijras.

The court said that transgenders would be allowed admission to educational institutions and given employment as a member of the third gender category. Additionally, reservations would be made for the group in education and employment.

While a huge step for the LGBT community, they still have a lot to continue fighting for.

Thorat said his plan is to just wait and watch what happens next. As a gay man in Pune, he came out to his friends and the other people at his workplace, but has yet to come out to his parents.

He planned to come out to them if the Section 377 Supreme Court verdict was positive, but now hopes to reveal his secret to them in the next few months.

“We will have to be on the streets asking for our rights, creating more and more awareness, making an alliance with heterosexuals, and educating them about this,” Thorat said. “ The last news we got is that RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), a big part of BJP’s decision-making team, is thinking to soften their views about homosexuality. So that’s a ray of hope.”

– Rachel Reed

Sources: Manoj S. Thorat, Times of India

Sam_Kutesa
Sam Kutesa, the Ugandan Foreign Minister under President Musevini, has been chosen to head the U.N. as President of its General Assembly next month despite his consistent homophobic attitude and history of corruption. The position, which will not be voted on, has been chosen by “elect of acclamation,” after being chosen by the African Union. In a mostly “figurative” position, Kutesa will chair meetings for the assembly, including its annual event attended by all 193 nations in New York this September, which President Obama will preside over.

Kutesa’s election has been met with widespread criticism from both rights groups as well as political leaders, including New York State senator, Kirsten Gillibrand. “It would be disturbing to see the foreign minister of a country that passed an unjust, harsh and discriminatory law based on sexual orientation preside over the U.N. general assembly,” she says.

This past February, President Museveni signed into law a bill which will toughen penalties against gay citizens in Uganda, which could enforce some “homosexual crimes” as punishable by death. Years of imprisonment would act as a minimum punishment for acts of homosexuality or for providing counsel, therapy or education regarding homosexuality to children. Kutesa stood by this legislation, claiming that most Africans “abhorred” homosexuality. Now, as he gets ready to fill a prominent position in the U.N., many are wondering of the repercussions.

Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell called on the government to intervene. “David Cameron [Prime Minister of the UK] and William Hague [First Secretary of State of the UK] should be lobbying the U.N. to block Kutesa’s appointment on the grounds that his political record is inconsistent with UK principles,” he says. Yet if government officials have yet to fight, the general population has already made its own aggressive stance.

A petition, made by Ugandan-born Milton Allimadi, has already received more than 7,000 signatures asking for Sam Kutesa’s future appointment in the U.N. to be revoked. Yet despite the criticism, Kutesa has rejected any plausible notion regarding his unfitness for the role. “I don’t believe that anybody should be blocking my presidency on those lines,” he says. “The issues they are raising have no basis.”

You can sign the petition here.

– Nick Magnanti

Sources: The Guardian, Pink News 2, Change.org, CNN
Photo: In2EastAfrica

LBGT Community
In 1996, South Africa became the first in the world to provide constitutional protection for LGBT people. South Africa is also the only African country on the continent that recognizes same-sex marriage. Unfortunately, there is a rise in the attacks against the LGBT community, especially lesbians. These attacks against lesbians are known as corrective rape, which is when a man rapes a lesbian in thought that the action of rape will turn that person straight. One 26-year-old lesbian living in Cape Town stated that “Men do it because they hate what we are. The feel threatened by us.”

One example of corrective rape in South Africa was a five-hour-long brutal rape that consisted of beatings and strangling of a young lesbian by the name of Millicent Gaika. She survived the attack and her rapist Andile Ngcoza was arrested and found guilty for rape. Although, he was arrested his bail was set at six dollars and he escaped prosecution.

Another example of a LGBT hate crime occurred this year. David Olyn, a 21-year-old gay man was beaten with bricks and burned to death in South Africa, as a group of teens watched. Accordingly, the teens were not shocked at this behavior because this is something that is a weekly occurrence. Therefore, the teens did not tell authorities.

Due to these horrific events the United Nations has launched a program called Free the Equal in 2013. This program is an effort to create an education program aimed at promoting respect for the LGBT community in South Africa.

South Africa does have the best recognition for gay rights on the continent, but these brutal attacks and rapes are still on the rise. However, the South African government is taking steps to combat the hate crimes and violence. These steps include the proper training of officials for the LGBT community’s needs. A young woman in the South African LGBT community stated that “Lots of my friends have been raped for being a lesbian. It is not an unusual thing.” Furthermore, new laws are being implemented to send the message that hate crimes will not be tolerated in South Africa.

How can the United States help with the South African government’s aid in combating LGBT violence? The United States has been working with prosecutors for the past decade in legal protection for LGBT rights. The United States can lend a hand in the South Africa government by showing correct methods used for training and prosecution for the protection of the LGBT community in South Africa and also share the experience from the past in dealing with hate crimes.

– Rachel Cannon

Sources: Human Rights First, Human Rights Campaign
Photo: The Guardian  

same_sex_couples_marriage
Although recent gains have been made in advancing equality for same-sex couples, the majority of the world’s countries do not have any legislation permitting same-sex marriage. As of 2014, only 16 countries have laws allowing same-sex marriage.  The majority of those countries are in Europe and South America, while the rest of the world struggles to gain ground for this meaningful right.

It is important to note, however, that legal recognition of gay couples varies from country to country and even within countries. Some countries provide full recognition of gay marriage, while other provide for limited civil union status, to even countries that criminalize same-sex marriage such as Uganda.

France legalized gay marriage after much effort and debate in May 2013, becoming the 14th country to do so. Despite more than 60% of France approving of same-sex marriage, the approval of same-sex marriage provoked acts of violence and protests that drew in hundreds of thousands of people from all over the country.

A prior law, the Pacte civile de Soldarité, allowed for civil unions between couples but did not provide the full benefits that marriage brings. Namely, the law did not confer similar treatment under the law for same-sex couples over inheritance issues and parenting rights.

The Netherlands was the first country to grant full legal recognition of same-sex marriage under the law when it passed a bill in 2001. One major difference between the treatment of same-sex couples and heterosexual couples lies in the birth of children. In the Netherlands, the biological father of the child is considered the father while their partner needs to adopt the child in order to obtain a co-parenting status.

In May 2013, a legal body in Brazil, the National Council of Justice, handed down a ruling effectively legalizing gay marriage. The ruling explicitly prohibited government officials from discriminating against same-sex couples by denying them the right to marry. Before this ruling, Brazil allowed for same-sex civil unions through its constitution, which permits “stable unions.” Stable unions gave many same-sex couples the same rights as married heterosexual couples, from the right to joint declaration of income tax, pension, property sharing, and inheritance.

In 2006, South Africa became the only country on the African continent to legalize same-sex marriage when it passed the Civil Union Act. This approval had its roots in the 1997 constitution that was the first to recognize sexual orientation as a basic human right. Despite this progressive legislation, some say homophobia in South Africa continues to be rampant, with famous South African soccer star Eudy Simelane killed in a hate-crime due to her sexual orientation.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: Council on Foreign Relations, The New York Times
Photo: Illinois Observer

india_protest_ban_on_gay_sex
In a move widely criticized by human rights groups, India’s Supreme Court voted to reinstate a law banning gay sex last Wednesday. The vote reverses a landmark 2009 decision by the Delhi High Court that found Section 377 of India’s penal code, which bans “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” unconstitutional.

Section 377 is an outdated holdover of British colonial law that dates back to 1861. That the British have long since repealed their own sodomy laws and are to begin marrying LGBTQ couples in March makes India’s support of the old law even more puzzling.

Violation of Section 377 is punishable by a fine and up to 10 years in prison. Although convictions are rare, the law has largely been used by police and other officials to blackmail and threaten members of the LGBTQ community. Its reimplementation ignores evidence that the law perpetuates harassment and threatens health and safety of LGBTQ citizens, and that it actively discriminates against sexual minorities.

In its 2009 ruling, the Delhi High Court decriminalized sex between two consenting adults, regardless of their gender, finding that Section 377 violated constitutional guarantees of privacy and equality. The Supreme Court disagreed and reversed the ruling. In what many see as an effort to shirk responsibility for the disgraceful decision, the court released statements that Parliament was “free to consider the desirability and propriety of deleting Section 377 IPC from the statute book or amend the same as per the suggestion made by the attorney general.”

This gesture was clearly disingenuous, given India’s fractured parliament, growing conservatism, and upcoming elections that make controversial political moves from parliament members unlikely.

The Supreme Court’s decision shocked many and sparked protests by gay rights supporters across the country. Most had assumed, considering the increase in visibility and acceptance of the LGBTQ community in the years following the 2009 ruling, that the Delhi High Court’s ruling would be upheld.

After 2009, many LGBTQ citizens felt supported by the unexpected show of solidarity from their government. According to Harish Iyer, an equal rights activist based in Mumbai, there was more than a 100 percent increase in people wanting to come out of the closet after the ruling. LGBTQ activists, who say that being gay was rarely discussed in Indian families before the decision, credit the ruling with helping to rid the subject of its taboo nature. Pride parades erupted even in small cities across the country, and Bollywood took note, including more LGBTQ characters than ever in movies and television shows. It seemed that India was moving forward.

“What are you doing now? Pushing them right back in [the closet]?” Iyer asks of the Indian government. “It’s not going to work. People who are out will be louder and stronger.”

There is hope that a strengthened LGBTQ community will be more equipped to take on rights violations than ever, but they will need help.

The Naz Foundation, a group working to prevent the spread of HIV who originally brought the issue to the Delhi High Court in 2001, has promised to redouble its efforts to fight the reinstatement of Section 377. Visit www.nazindia.org/advocacy to learn more and donate today. People cannot afford to move backwards in the fight for human rights.

Sarah Morrison

Sources: Al Jazeera America, The New Yorker, New York Times, New York Times, Time

russia_neo_nazis_anti_gay
As the Sochi Winter Olympics approach there is growing concern over the Neo-Nazi movement in Russia. Over half of the world’s Neo-Nazi members are in Russia.  This movement is behind the abuse of gays and violation of gay rights.  The group also opposes foreigners, Jews, Muslims, Roma, and Asians.

The group has recently become a paramilitary organization, although they claim to be a sports club.  The Neo-Nazis are training members in weapons as well as hand-to-hand combat.  Many of the weapons used are outlawed, and therefore bought from the black market.  They are strictly anti-drug or alcohol, focusing on fitness and bodybuilding to train for their “revolution.”

There are an estimated 50,000-70,000 Neo-Nazis in Russia according to an ABC News report.  The group seemed to organize around widespread unemployment and poverty in the early 1990s.  Many of the members are young adults who were hit hardest by the economic downturn.  The group operates under the official name of the Russian National Unity, a party founded by Alexander Barkashov in 1990.  The party symbol is the swastika and some members receive military training in Moscow.

In 2007 a student associated with the Neo-Nazis was arrested for posting a video of two migrant workers being beheaded in front of a swastika flag.  Recently the group has been targeting gay youth, finding them on dating sites or social media.  Neo-Nazis may create fake profiles and ask to meet up with someone who identifies as homosexual only to then physically and emotionally abuse them.  Many of these attacks have been posted online.  The group recognizes homosexuality as ‘pedophilia” and see their acts of violence as justified under this definition.  Groups have organized using the slogan “Occupy Pedofilya” as a rally cry against homosexuality.

– Stephanie Lamm

Sources: The Verge, Pink News

One of the world’s more prolific humanitarian aid organizations, the American Jewish World Service plays an important role in the fight against global poverty. The organization sends over $13 million a year overseas to fund 400 grantees in 36 countries worldwide. Not only does the AJWS fund such initiatives by their grantees, the organization has sent more than 3,000 volunteers to work with local NGOs around the world. More recently, the AJWS and its president have taken a stand on issues at home, following the recent decision on gay marriage in the United States.

At its inception, the AJWS was inspired by a religious commitment to justice and the international organization continues to pursue an end to extreme poverty in developing nations worldwide. Historically forward-thinking in its mission to end poverty and promote human rights, the AJWS concentrates its work in four areas: international development, accountability and learning, humanitarian action, and policy and action. Overall, the goal of AJWS initiatives is sustainability in implementation, such that local NGOs can maintain the effectiveness of initial, ideally one-time, funding and support.

By sending volunteers abroad, the AJWS seeks to realize the Jewish value of tikkun olam. Tikkun olam, or the idea of repairing the world, represents a commitment by members of the Jewish faith to become global citizens, one dedicating him or herself to helping those in need. In realizing tikkun olam, AJWS volunteers and the organization itself are no strangers to taking a stand on controversial issues.

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on DOMA and Prop. 8, AJWS president Ruth Messinger voiced her support for the decision. The AJWS representative and long-time supporter of LGBTI rights noted that in over 75 countries across the globe people can be arrested for having sex with someone of the same gender. In five of these countries, the guilty parties can be sentenced to death. Ms. Messinger’s statement shows a clear and far-reaching commitment by the AJWS to protect all human rights, beyond the right to a life free from poverty. It is decidedly heartening to see a religious organization so active in controversial issues.

– Herman Watson

Sources: American Jewish World Service, Jewish Journal, Jewish Journal
Photo: American Jewish World Service