George and Amal Clooney are setting up a new program to monitor trials and courtrooms around the world that oppress LGBTI people and other groups.
According to Reuters, their Clooney Foundation for Justice is launching TrialWatch this year.
The project aims to ‘monitor trials and create an index to track which countries are using courtrooms to oppress minorities and government critics’.
George Clooney, 57, said courtrooms can be used to do ‘really rotten things’. TrialWatch is meant to ‘shine a light’ on what’s happening with these global trials.
‘We now have the highest number of journalists in jail in the world since records began,’ Amal Clooney said at an event in Edinburgh.
Amal Clooney, 41, is an international human rights lawyer. She is a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers and has represented the likes of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
She said she hopes to use both her and her husband’s fame and power to do good.
‘It helps when we want to engage governments to act or business leaders,’ said the British-Lebanese lawyer.
The couple, who married in 2014, founded their Clooney Foundation for Justice in 2016. It serves ‘the rights of individuals unfairly targeted by oppressive governments through the courts’.
The organization’s mission statement advocates ‘advancing justice for marginalized and vulnerable communities targeted by hate; justice for displaced children deprived of opportunities to learn; justice for refugees seeking to rebuild their lives abroad’.
Power of courts
Courts have the ability to dictate laws in countries and legalize protections for LGBTI people — or the opposite.
Democrats on Wednesday (13 March), with some bipartisan support, are re-introducing the Equality Act to Congress for the third time.
This bill seeks to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected traits. If passed, it would prohibit discrimination in various areas, including employement, housing, public accommodation, and more on a national level.
The Campaign of Southern Equality praised the bill for its importance to LGBTI people living in the South.
‘Right now, more than a third of LGBTQ people in the United States call the South their home, but no Southern state has passed statewide protections from anti-LGBTQ discrimination,’ said Executive Director Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara.
‘On top of this, most of the anti-LGBTQ bills filed each year are filed in Southern states, and we continue to hear story after story of LGBTQ people who are fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, and denied service because of who they are.’
In the face of a discriminatory and cruel administration, the Equality Act feels more critical than ever.
Legislators introduced the first version of it in 1974, only including sexual orientation in various areas of life. Previously, the Equality Act as it exists today, including both sexual orientation and gender identity, has been introduced to Congress twice. The first time was in 2015 and then again in 2017.
Both years the bill died in committee.
With the Democratic majority in the House, it is very likely the Equality Act will pass there. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), however, has to call a vote in the Senate for it to pass. It is unclear if he will do so.
President Donald Trump unveiled his annual budget proposal on Monday (11 March). It includes $291 million for the national fight against HIV and AIDS — while cutting over $1 billion in similar funding on a global scale.
In the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2020, Trump allocated $291 million to the Department of Health and Human Services. This money is specifically allocated to end the transmission of HIV.
In his 2019 State of the Union address, Trump pledged to end new HIV transmissions in the US by 2030 — an announcement met with skepticism from many LGBTI groups.
‘My budget will ask Democrats and Republicans to make the needed commitment to eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years,’ Trump said. ‘Together, we will defeat AIDS in America and beyond.’
In the new proposal, however, Trump drastically cuts funding in the fight against HIV and AIDS ‘beyond’ the US.
‘Actions speak louder’
Trump’s budget includes $250 million cut from the Global Fund and a $1.5 billion cut to PEPFAR.
The Global Fund is an international financial organization focused on ending the epidemics of HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.
PEPFAR, meanwhile, is the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief. President George H.W. Bush and the Global Fund originally started this program together. According to reports, PEPFAR has helped treat and save the lives of more than 16 million people living with HIV as of 2018.
Trump also proposed cutting funding to PEPFAR last year.
Finally, Trump is also proposing cutting funding to Medicare and Medicaid. These two programs help low-income individuals, including those living with HIV.
In his proposal, Trump would cut $818 billion from Medicare over the next 10 years.
‘LGBTQ Americans were right to be skeptical about President Trump’s pledge to end HIV and AIDS and today’s budget revealed the truth: this administration is not serious about this fight,’ said Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO at GLAAD.
‘Actions always speak louder than words, and the Trump Administration once again proved to people living with HIV – which includes LGBTQ Americans – that they simply cannot trust this President to do anything more than pay lip service.’
Activists are concerned with Donald Trump’s nomination to lead the Office on Violence Against Women. His nominee is Shannon Lee Goessling, a Republican with an anti-LGBTI and pro-gun record.
This office is an organization that works with victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and more. They administer grants to help support these victims in a variety of ways.
When first announcing her nomination to the position, Trump and the White House praised her legal and business records. They specifically noted her time as director of the Crimes Against Women and Children Prosecution Unit in Atlanta, which she earned after serving almost a decade as a state prosecutor.
She only held the position for nine months, however.
Many advocates worry her lack of experience with domestic violence makes her an inappropriate nominee for the position.
Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, told the Huffington Post: ‘This is a top job, for God’s sake. You should have a person here who has experience in this field.’
Worrisome conservative experience
Others are concerned her conservative views and advocacy will mean she won’t properly serve LGBTI victims or people of color.
Goessling spent a large portion of her career, from 2004 to 2015, as the executive director and chief legal counsel of Southeastern Legal Foundation (SLF), a conservative legal group.
In 2009, the organization also challenged the US Environmental Protection Agency’s report. The report stated climate change threatens public health and future generations, with humans mainly responsible.
Smeal continued: ‘In each of these different communities, there [are] different complexities. The person who runs the office must not only understand that, but also be sympathetic to it.
‘We’re worried that a vote for her would exclude LGBTQ and immigrant survivors from protections and resources.’
Advocacy for guns
Some activists expressed concerns specifically about Goessling’s pro-gun stance.
In 2007, following the deadly shooting at Virginia Tech, Goessling reportedly said at a panel on gun rights that her ‘best friend is my Glock’.
One year later, she wrote an amicus brief arguing that possession of firearms helps protect women from sexual violence.
Susan Sorenson, a gun violence researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, said no research supports this claim, however.
‘Some might find it to be an appealing idea, but we don’t have any research that supports it,’ she explained. ‘What we do know is that women who purchase a handgun are more likely, in the days, weeks, months and years afterwards, to be the victim of homicide and suicide.’
LGBTI people are also vulnerable to violence. They face both higher rates of hate crimes and suicide.
While it is not known precisely how many LGBTI people are the victims of gun violence, guns are responsible for the majority of preventable violence. They account for 68% of homicides in the US each year. The presence of gun increases the risks for both homicide and suicide.
Photo: Facebook/Asociacion Aspidh Arcoiris Trans18 February 2019
A transgender woman who was killed in El Salvador was reportedly deported by United States immigration officials before her death. They allegedly did not believe her concerns of being in danger in her home country.
LGBTI organization Presentes is investigating what happened to the 29-year-old sex worker. Some of Camila’s fellow sex workers told Presentes they saw police attack Camila and dump her body.
‘Presentes has asked police for an official response but it has closed the case and has not responded,’ the organization said in a statement.
Asociación Aspidh Arcoiris Trans, another Salvadoran trans group, told the Washington Blade they learned Camila was taken to Rosales National Hospital on 31 January with numerous injuries.
US immigration policies
Camila migrated to the US over threats posed to her in El Salvador. Advocates say that immigration authorities in the US allegedly didn’t believe her concerns and deported her back to her native country.
Aislinn Odaly’s, an LGBTI rights advocate, told the Blade: ‘She migrated to the US because of threats that she had received, but she was deported because they didn’t believe her.’
This case is a magnifying glass on immigration policies in the United States.
Last week, Donald Trump declared a national emergency over the border wall he wants along the US-Mexico border. He did this over a perceived ‘crisis’ at the border caused by illegal immigration.
This, however, affects LGBTI people fleeing the violence and discrimination in their home countries, as seen in the case of Camila.
Even when immigrants make it to the United States, though, they face new obstacles. A recent report revealed US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is currently holding over 100 transgender individuals.
Transgender activist Barbra ‘Babs’ Casbar Siperstein died on Sunday (3 February) at the age of 76.
Throughout her life, Siperstein accomplished much and made a legacy for herself.
In 2009, the Democratic National Committee appointed her as a member. She became the first openly transender person serving on the committee.
She remained in that position until 2011, when they promoted her to the executive committee, where she served until 2017.
Two days before her death, a law went into effect in New Jersey named after her.
The Babs Siperstein Law allows transgender, non-binary, and other gender nonconforming people to request a change on their birth certificate from a registrar. Previously, they needed a doctor’s confirmation that their gender had been surgically changed.
Testaments to her legacy
Many people and organizations in New Jersey remembered Siperstein fondly.
Garden State Equality wrote a lengthy and touching tribute to her on Facebook.
‘She was an architect of our movement,’ they wrote, describing her as an icon like Harvey Milk and Sylvia Rivera.
‘In the long and proud history of New Jersey’s LGBTQ community, few voices spoke with the power and passion of Babs Siperstein,’ he said.
He also requested all state buildings and facilities fly their flags at half-mast in honor and remembrance of her.
Beyond her political impact, Siperstein also boasted a personal impact on people’s lives.
One mother wrote that Siperstein saved her son’s life. Her son was attending therapy for his depression regarding his transgender identity and subsequent bullying. That is where the pair met and connected, as she did with so many across New Jersey.
As it explains, the purpose of the report is to ‘identify potential gaps in attitudes, knowledge, and institutional practices toward LGBTQ patients’.
In order to complete their survey and find results, the authors took a random sample of 450 oncologists from 45 cancer centers from the American Medical Association’s Physician Masterfile.
Promsingly, a majority of the oncologists affirmed the importance of knowing their patients’ identities and receiving LGBTQ education.
Regarding identities, more believe it’s important to know a patient’s gender identity (65.8%) compared to sexual orientation (39.6%). A large majority (70.4%) expressed interest in receiving education specifically about LGBTQ patients.
Following the survey, however, confidence dropped among oncologists about their own knowledge.
53.1% said they were confident about LGB health needs and information before taking the survey. That number dropped to 38.9% after the survey.
The numbers were even lower about transgender knowledge (from 36.9% to 19.5%).
A promising fact is that a majority of these doctors (83%) feel comfortable treating trans patients, but only 37% felt like they know enough to actually do so.
‘With this research, we’re really interested in looking at how discrimination affects not only patient health but also how can we intervene at the provider level to have an impact on quality of care,’ one of the author’s, Megan Sutter, told CBS News.
Another author of the study, Gwendolyn Quinn, revealed some of the questions they asked the oncologists.
They asked the doctors if they knew the LGBTQ community is more likely to spend time in the sun, use tobacco, and have substance abuse. They also inquired if women who have never had sex with a man are still at risk for HPV.
‘The answer to these questions is that they’re true, but many of the doctors in the survey didn’t think that,’ Quinn said.
She continued: ‘It’s not a patient issue. We should not expect people who identify as LGBTQ to train us about what their needs are. It is our obligation as institutions and providers of care to figure out how we can best serve them.’
A story dominating headlines in the United States right now is the wall President Donald Trump wants along the US-Mexico border. It has caused a government shutdown (going on three weeks) and numerous debates around the country.
While it may be understood this has nothing to do with the LGBTI community, that’s simply not true.
In fact, immigration (and related issues, such as refugees seeking asylum) is intrinsically linked to LGBTI issues.
This is everything LGBTI people should know about the current border wall debate in the US.
Background on the wall
Trump has been promising a border wall to curb illegal immigration since he first began his presidential campaign. In one of his first speeches, he referred to Mexicans as ‘criminals’ and ‘rapists’ as justification for the wall.
Barriers have existed along the border, aimed at preventing illegal immigration from Mexico, since the 1990s. These barriers are not one continuous structure, but numerous structures in certain areas.
Trump, however, has used fearmongering in an effort to rally support for a continuous, massive border wall.
In September 2016, he said: ‘On Day One, we will begin working on intangible, physical, tall, power, beautiful southern border wall.’
A message projected onto a prototype of Trump’s wall | Photo: Flickr/Backbone Campagin
Make no mistake: this call for a wall is racist.
From his day one comments about Mexican people, all of his rallying cries for a border wall have been steeped in negative stereotypes about Latinx and other people of color.
In his recent Oval Office address on the border wall, he linked drugs, violence, and terrorism to immigrants.
Multiple White House officials, including press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Vice President Mike Pence, claimed Customs and Border Patrol apprehended 4,000 known or suspected terrorists crossing the southern border.
In fact, between 2017 and 2018, only six were on the Terrorist Screening Database.
Further, multiple studies have shown illegal immigrants commit less crimes on US soil than US citizens themselves, and legal immigrants commit even less.
Amber Heard and other celebrities attended a protest at the border wall | Photo: Instagram @amberheard
The US federal government is in its third week of a shutdown, leaving federal employees out of jobs without pay.
Despite once claiming he would take responsibility for the shutdown if funding wasn’t provided for the border wall, Trump now blames Democrats.
Democratic Congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have met with Trump multiple times. Each time, they’ve refused to give in to Trump’s demands.
This, however, does not mean Democrats are against border security.
In fact, when Democrats took control of the House of Representatives at the start of the year, they passed legislation which included $1.3 billion in border security funding.
In years past, Democrats also supported other border security measures. One measure was the 2013 Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act. Another was the Secure Fence Act of 2006.
It’s different now because they simply won’t give Trump the $5.7 billion he demands for his racist and unethical wall.
How this affects LGBTI people
As previously mentioned, many federal employees are currently out of their jobs without pay due to the shutdown. This includes LGBTI federal employees.
LGBTI people south of the border are also severely affected by this.
It is no secret that LGBTI people of color face disproportionate rates of discrimination and violence worldwide. This is especially true in countries lacking protections or rights for LGBTI people.
Many of the refugees seeking asylum from Central and South America are LGBTI people. They’re escaping discrimination and violence in their home countries.
Roxsana Hernandez, the trans woman who died in the custody of US immigration, was only 33 | Photo: Facebook/Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement
Let’s not forget, as well, that the United States helped cultivate such violence and political corruption in Central and South America due to its involvement in numerous countries’ elections during the Cold War and beyond.
In Nicaragua, for example, the US backed and funded the Contras, right-wing rebel groups in the 1980s and 90s. These groups used terrorist tactics to commit thousands of human rights violations.
We should care
More than anything else, we should care about other marginalized groups – period.
It’s true that LGBTI people are among the caravans seeking asylum. Regardless, though, it is in the interest of fostering compassion and a progressive future to advocate for and heed the oppression of other minority groups in general.
The oppression of any marginalized community affects all others.
The fight for equality and rights, in the face of dictatorial forces of power, fails without intersectionality.
On Tuesday (8 January), a federal grand jury in Texas returned an indictment against two men accused of using Grindr to assault and rob gay male victims. They charged the men with conspiracy to commit hate crimes.
The jury delivered a 15-count indictment against Daniel Jenkins, 19, and Michael Atkinson, 24.
According to the Texas state attorney’s office, Jenkins and Atkinson used the popular dating app to ‘lure’ men to an apartment complex. They allegedly targeted at least nine men between the ages of 19 and 57.
U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox of the Northern District of Texas also revealed that at least ‘five victims were physicaly assaulted, one was sexually assaulted with an object, and one was smeared with feces’.
Other reports state Jenkins and Atkinson allegedly wielded guns and threatened their victims with them.
The pair face numerous other charges beyond the conspiracy one. Other charges could include kidnapping and carjacking, with a possible maximum sentence of life in prison.
He ran opposing Republican candidate Walker Stapleton, who took 44.9% of the votes, compared to Polis’ 52%.
Prior to becoming governor, Polis served as the representative from Colorado’s 2nd congressional district since 2009. He fought for numerous progressive causes, such as LGBTI rights, education access, and healthcare.
Civil Rights icon and House of Representatives member John Lewis endorsed Polis in his bid for governorship.
‘‘Jared and I have worked together for years to expand civil rights and to make healthcare more affordable to millions,’ he said.
Watch Polis’ inauguration and swearing-in below.
‘Right now, our nation is experiencing a period of growing divisiveness and rising tribalism,’ Polis said in his inaugural speech.
‘But we here in Colorado have chosen a different path. Here, we have come so far, climbed so high, and done so much not just to say, but to show that we reject that brand of politics.’
His speech continued with him praising Colorado’s diversity.
‘We have embraced the idea that no two people are exactly alike, and we have decided to celebrate our differences, Colorado for all.’
Diversity was a theme of the day, as well as hope for the future.
Numerous other speakers followed Polis’ speech. First was an invocation by the Reverend Dr. James D. Peters, Jr. of New Hope Baptist Church, followed by a Sikh blessing.
Then Anne Waldman gave a poetry reading and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Spiritual Leader Terry Knight delivered a Native American blessing.
Polis’ predecessor, John Hickenlooper, also spoke at the event.
‘We are connected to the very best of ourselves when we are connected to one another,’ he said. He added he was ‘honored’ to hand the baton to Polis.
Polis also took a selfie with the crowd.
At the inaugural ball following the event, Cyndi Lauper will perform.