France and Greece this week announced they will allow gay and bisexual men to donate blood without restrictions.
Têtu, a French LGBTQ magazine, noted men who have sex with men previously had to remain abstinent for four months before they could donate blood in France.
French Health Minister Olivier Véran on Tuesday announced this requirement would no longer be in place as of March 16. Têtu also noted officials will no longer ask potential blood donors about their sexual orientation.
“It’s a whole new relationship with the blood donor that we want,” said Véran.
Greece on Monday also said it would allow MSM to donate blood without restrictions.
Greek Health Minister Thanos Plevris and Deputy Health Minister Mina Gaga issued a decree that will become official once the Government Gazette publishes it.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration currently allows MSM to donate blood if they have not had sex with another man for three months.
The American Red Cross this week declared a blood crisis because of the surge in COVID-19 omicron variant cases. The declaration sparked renewed calls for the U.S. to allow MSM to donate blood without restrictions.
A prominent transgender activist in Honduras was killed on Monday.
Reportar sin Miedo, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Honduras, reported Thalía Rodríguez was shot in the head outside her home in Tegucigalpa, the country’s capital.
Rodríguez, 58, led Asociación Cozumel Trans, a Honduran trans rights group.
Reportar sin Miedo reported Rodríguez ran her own business for nearly three decades until debts, poor sales and the pandemic forced her to close it about a year ago. Reportar sin Miedo interviewed Rodríguez for a feature story on trans Hondurans’ experiences in the country that it published last month.
“Thalía for many years had been fighting to ensure the trans community in Honduras would have rights,” JLo Córdova of Muñecas de Arcoíris, a Honduran trans rights group, told Reportar sin Miedo. “She was a warrior because she always fought for our rights. We condemn and repudiate her murder.” Ferrera, the co-founder of Asociación Cozumel Trans who the Blade interviewed in Tegucigalpa in 2017, also condemned Rodríguez’s murder.
Anti-trans violence is commonplace in Honduras, a country in Central America’s Northern Triangle that borders Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
Reportar sin Miedo reports Rodríguez is the 400th trans person to be reported killed in Honduras since 2009.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights last year found Honduras responsible for the murder of Vicky Hernández, a trans woman who was killed hours after the 2009 coup that ousted then-President Manuel Zelaya. President-elect Xiomara Castro, who is Zelaya’s wife, is scheduled to take office on Jan. 27.
Officials with the U.N. Refugee Agency in Central America and Mexico say they remain committed to helping LGBTQ asylum seekers and migrants in the region.
UNHCR Guatemala Representative Besem Obenson told the Washington Blade during an interview at her Guatemala City office last September that she and her colleagues work with Asociación Lambda and other Guatemalan NGOs to provide LGBTQ asylum seekers with access to LGBTQ-friendly shelters, psychosocial care and other programs once they identify themselves as LGBTQ. Obenson said UNHCR also works with the Guatemalan government to improve the way it responds to an asylum seeker with an ID document that does not correspond to their gender presentation.
“Our role … is to strengthen the government’s response to refugees and asylum seekers,” said Obenson.
Rafael Zavala, a senior UNHCR official in El Salvador, echoed Obenson when he spoke with the Blade at UNHCR’s office in San Salvador, the Salvadoran capital, last July.
Zavala noted UNHCR has a formal partnership with COMCAVIS Trans, a Salvadoran transgender rights group. Zavala said UNHCR also works with two other LGBTQ groups — Aspidh Arcoíris Trans and Diké LGBTI+ — in a less official capacity.
“What we do is work at the community level to strengthen their role in communities,” Zavala told the Blade. “We also build for them safe spaces (to accept internally displaced people, migrants and deportees who are LGBTQ) and also find spaces where they can receive services, attention and legal assistance.”
Anti-LGBTQ violence among migration ‘root causes’
Vice President Kamala Harris and others have acknowledged anti-LGBTQ violence is one of the “root causes” of migration from Central America’s Northern Triangle that includes El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
The Mexican Commission on Refugee Aid (COMAR) on Monday reported 27.7 percent of the 131,448 people who asked for asylum in Mexico in 2021 were Honduran.
The Justice Department notes 85,391 people asked for asylum in the U.S. in the 2021 fiscal year from Oct. 1, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2021. More than twice as many people asked for asylum in the U.S. during the 2020 fiscal year, which began before the pandemic.
The Justice Department statistics indicate 10 percent of the 8,679 Guatemalans, 11 percent of the 5,464 Hondurans and 14 percent of the 8,030 Salvadorans who applied for asylum in the U.S. during the 2021 fiscal year won their cases. Neither the Justice Department nor COMAR specify the asylum seekers’ sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Biden administration last February began to allow into the U.S. asylum seekers who the previous White House forced to pursue their cases in Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols program. The Biden administration has sought to end MPP, but a federal appeals court last month blocked this effort.
Title 42, a Center for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the pandemic, remains in place.
UNHCR non-discrimination policy includes sexual orientation, gender identity
UNHCR Senior Protection Officer Sofia Cardona last summer during an interview at UNHCR’s Mexico City office acknowledged that identifying asylum seekers who are LGBTQ is a challenge. Cardona and other UNHCR representatives with whom the Blade spoke for this story referred to the agency’s 2018 non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity and specifically recognizes LGBTQ asylum seekers.
“Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons face complex challenges, threats and barriers and are often exposed to discrimination, abuse, prejudice and violence due to their sex, sexual orientation and/or gender identity,” notes the policy. “This is often severely compounded in situations of displacement, where the nature of the discrimination they encounter can be particularly virulent, their isolation from family and community profound and the harm inflicted on them severe.”
The policy states “diversity refers to different values, attitudes, cultural perspectives, beliefs, ethnicities, nationalities, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, health, social and economic status, skills and other specific personal characteristics.”
“Diversity characteristics vary from person to person and intersect, making each person unique,” it reads. “These differences must be recognized, understood, respected and valued by UNHCR in each context and operation in order to address effectively the needs of all persons of concern. Respecting diversity means recognizing and valuing those differences and creating a protective, inclusive and non-discriminatory environment where everyone’s rights are upheld.”
Cardona noted UNHCR staff and representatives of NGOs and governments with which it works regularly attend LGBTQ sensitivity trainings. Topics include ways to determine whether an asylum seeker is LGBTQ without forcing them to out themselves.
“You can’t force a disclosure,” said Cardona. “You can neve directly ask somebody, so, are you gay? Are you transgender? It’s incorrect because you may put people at risk, so it’s a very thin line of you can never force a disclosure of someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation, but you must signify to somebody that you are a safe space to receive that disclosure.”
Cardona said UNHCR representatives can ask an asylum seeker what their name is or disclose to them that they are “de la diversidad” or “from a diverse background.”
“You never begin an interview assuming anything by the way a person looks because in forced displacement gender expression is unlikely to match up to gender identity,” Cardona told the Blade. “So you need to understand that you may very well have conversations with a trans man who is wearing makeup and a dress, and you may very well be having a conversation with a trans woman who has a beard because that is how they are protecting themselves in a sphere of forced displacement.”
Cardona also noted UNHCR staff wear buttons with slogans that include “en seguridad” or “espacio libre de discriminación,” which translates into “in safety” or “discrimination-free space” respectively. Both Cardona and Zavala were wearing such buttons when they spoke with the Blade.
“We try very, very, very hard to work with our staff and also our partners … so they have their capacity strengthened in LGBTI rights,” Dagmara Mejia, the director of UNHCR’s field office in the Mexican border city of Tijuana, told the Blade last summer during an interview at her office.
Mejia noted the trainings she and her colleagues conduct focuses on topics that include the use pronouns that correspond to an asylum seeker’s gender identity and shelter standards for LGBTQ asylum seekers.
UNHCR works with Jardín de las Mariposas, a shelter for LGBTQ asylum seekers in Tijuana that is less than two miles from El Chaparral, the main port of entry between the city and San Diego. UNHCR also maintains contact with Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration Executive Director Steve Roth and the California-based Transgender Law Center.
“If there is no disclosure, no trust, then we cannot meet their needs and respond,” said Mejia.
“We also create these environments that allow the community to feel safe and to know that it is a place where they can come without the risk of discrimination,” said Zavala.
Obenson told the Blade that UNHCR has worked with the Foundation for Ecodevelopment and Conservation (FUNDAECO), a Guatemalan NGO, to hire asylum seekers who have chosen to stay in Guatemala as park rangers. Trans women are among those who FUNDAECO has hired.
“People need to feel safe,” said Obenson. “People need to be able to live their authentic selves without fear of violence or fear of retribution.”
“That for me, as a rep, is what I strive for,” added Obenson. “Everything that we do here at UNHCR is to encourage that.”
The Canadian government on Dec. 31 once again said it will resettle LGBTQ Afghans in the country.
Reuters reported a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Sean Fraser did not say how many LGBTQ Afghans will be resettled in Canada, but said they would have “been referred by a third-party aid organization.”
The spokesperson also told Reuters the Canadian government will allow upwards of 230 female judges and their relatives who fled Afghanistan after the Taliban regained control of the country to settle in Canada. They are expected to arrive in Canada this year, but the spokesperson did not provide a specific timeline.
The Taliban regained control of Afghanistan on Aug. 15 after it entered Kabul, the country’s capital.
A Taliban judge in July said the group would once again execute people if it were to return to power in Afghanistan.
The Canadian government previously said it would offer refuge to LGBTQ Afghans.
Two groups of LGBTQ Afghans who Rainbow Railroad, a Canada-based group, helped evacuate from Afghanistan arrived in the U.K. last fall. Some of the 50 Afghan human rights activists who Taylor Hirschberg, a researcher at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health who is also a Hearst Foundation scholar, has been able to help leave the country since the Taliban regained control of it are LGBTQ.
Rainbow Railroad is one of the many advocacy groups that has urged the Biden administration to do more to help LGBTQ Afghans who remain in the country.
The State Department has launched a fund that seeks to bolster LGBTQ rights around the world.
A press release the State Department released on Friday says the Global LGBTQI+ Inclusive Democracy and Empowerment (GLIDE) Fund will “provide up to $5 million … to facilitate the participation and leadership of LGBTQI+ community members in democratic institutions.”
The GLIDE Fund is a program under the Global Equality Fund, a public-private partnership the U.S. helped launched in 2011 that seeks to promote LGBTQ rights around the world. A State Department spokesperson earlier this week told the Washington Blade the Swedish International Development Agency and the U.S. provided the GLIDE Fund’s initial funding.
Friday’s announcement coincides with International Human Rights Day, which commemorates the U.N. General Assembly’s ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10, 1948. It also took place on the last day of the White House’s Summit for Democracy.
Equal Rights Coalition reaffirms commitment to LGBTQ rights
The U.S. and other members of the Equal Rights Coalition, which seeks to promote LGBTQ rights around the world, on Friday issued a statement to “affirm that the revitalization of democracy within our own nations and around the world is essential to promoting and protecting human rights, especially for those in the most vulnerable situations including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons.”
“Threats to the rule of law, rising levels of inequality, authoritarianism and corruption are eroding democracy in every region, with grave consequences for the LGBTI community, among others,” reads the statement. “Persistent criminalization of LGBTI status and ongoing violence and discrimination undermine the possibility of LGBTI persons to fully participate in democratic and political processes.”
Albania, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Cabo Verde, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Portugal, Serbia, Sweden, the U.K. and Uruguay signed the Equal Rights Coalition statement alongside the U.S.
“Members of this coalition affirm our interest to work together over the coming year to support and empower the participation of LGBTI persons in the full range of democratic processes, including elections; political campaigns; civil society advocacy and oversight; journalism and independent reporting; and political leadership,” it reads.
The Biden administration in February issued a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad.
The Council for Global Equality and F&M Global Barometers earlier this week released a series of report cards that rank countries on their LGBTQ rights records. The report cards indicate the U.S. continues to lag behind other countries in terms of protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
A series of report cards from the Council for Global Equality and F&M Global Barometers that rank countries on their LGBTQ rights records indicate the U.S. continues to lag behind.
The report cards rank the 110 countries that are participating in the White House’s Summit for Democracy that began on Thursday. They specifically rank the nations on 30 specific benchmarks that are grouped together in three categories.
Basic Human Rights:
– No criminalization of sexual orientation
– No criminalization of gender identity or expression
– Freedom from arbitrary arrest based on sexual orientation
– Freedom from arbitrary arrest based on gender identity
– Legal recognition of gender identity
– No physiological alteration requirement for legal gender recognition
– No psychiatric diagnosis requirement for legal gender recognition
– LGBTQI organizations are allowed to legally register
– LGBTQI organizations are able to peacefully and safely assemble
– Security forces provide protection to LGBTQI pride participants
Protection from Violence:
– Ban on gay conversion therapy
– Hate crimes legislation includes sexual orientation
– Hate crimes legislation includes gender identity
– Hate crimes legislation includes sex characteristics
– Hate speech laws include sexual orientation
– Hate speech laws include gender identity
– Equality body mandate exists
– Prohibition of medically-unnecessary non-consensual medical interventions on intersex individuals
– Gender affirming prison accommodations
– Asylum for LGBTQI individuals is available within the country
– Workplace non-discrimination laws include sexual orientation
– Workplace non-discrimination laws include gender identity
– Workplace non-discrimination laws include sex characteristics
– Fair housing non-discrimination las include sexual orientation
– Fair housing non-discrimination laws include gender identity
– Head of state supports marriage equality
– State allows for marriage equality
– State prohibits discrimination in health care based on sexual orientation
– State prohibits discrimination in health care based on gender identity
– Legal classifications, such as an X sex or gender marker, universally available
The U.S. scored 70 percent on the “Basic Human Rights” benchmarks, 30 percent on the “Protection from Violence” benchmarks and 50 percent on the “Socio-Economic Rights” benchmarks.
Malta scored 100 percent on all three sets of benchmarks. Uruguay received a 100 percent score on the “Basic Human Rights” benchmarks, an 80 percent score on the “Protection from Violence” benchmarks and a 90 percent score on the “Socio-Economic Rights” benchmarks.
The report cards the Council for Global Equality and F&M Global Barometers released on Tuesday are based on 2020 data.
The groups will release a second set of report cards in 2022 based on new data. Council for Global Equality Chair Mark Bromley told the Washington Blade the U.S. will have a higher score because the State Department will have begun to offer passports with an “X” gender marker and President Biden explicitly supports marriage equality.
The Biden administration on Thursday unveiled the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal, which the White House describes as “a landmark set of policy and foreign assistance initiatives that build upon the U.S. government’s significant, ongoing work to bolster democracy and defend human rights globally.” Biden in a speech he delivered at the opening of the Summit for Democracy noted the initiative, among other things, includes programs that seek to empower LGBTQ people.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s advisor on LGBTQ issues last week applauded his government’s efforts to help facilitate the successful evacuation of LGBTQ Afghans from the country.
“I’m very proud of the tremendous work that’s been done by the U.K. government,” Nick Herbert, a member of the British House of Lords, told the Washington Blade on Dec. 1 during an interview in D.C. “The U.K. has shown global leadership here.”
A group of 29 LGBTQ Afghans who Stonewall, Rainbow Railroad and Micro Rainbow evacuated from Afghanistan with the help of the British government arrived in the U.K. on Oct. 29. Herbert on Nov. 6 announced a second group of LGBTQ Afghans had reached the country.
“It took … a strong effort with different parts of government working together and the determination that this was really important and that people’s safety was at risk and also that we have a moral obligation to the communities affected,” said Herbert.
The Taliban entered Kabul, the Afghan capital, on Aug. 15 and regained control of the country.
A Taliban judge has said the group would once again execute people if it were to return to power in Afghanistan. Rainbow Railroad and Taylor Hirschberg, a researcher at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health who is also a Hearst Foundation scholar, and others have been working to help evacuate LGBTQ Afghans from the country.
Advocacy groups continue to urge the Biden administration to do more to help LGBTQ Afghans who remain in Afghanistan.
Herbert noted the British government has committed to grant asylum to 10,000 Afghans under the country’s “Operation Warm Welcome” that seeks “to ensure the Afghans who stood side by side with us in conflict, their families and those at highest risk who have been evacuated, are supported as they now rebuild their lives in the U.K.” Herbert stressed this program will “prioritize” LGBTQ people and other at-risk groups in Afghanistan.
“This shows the power of working together and governments working in partnership with NGOs to achieve something,” he told the Blade. “I fully recognize there were lots of citizens who remained in Afghanistan, and so nevertheless, I think it was very heartening to see that those Afghan citizens who are most at risk were brought to the center.”
Herbert said he expects more LGBTQ Afghans will be “brought to safety,” but he declined to provide a specific number.
Johnson raised LGBTQ rights crackdown with Hungarian prime minister
Herbert spoke with the Blade before he participated in the Victory Institute’s International LGBTQ Leaders Conference that took place in-person at the JW Marriott in D.C. from Dec. 2-4.
Johnson in May appointed Herbert as his LGBTQ rights advisor.
Herbert is the first person who officially advises a British prime minister on LGBTQ issues. The former House of Commons member also co-founded the Global Equality Caucus, a group of LGBTQ elected officials around the world who work to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Herbert throughout the interview noted his government continues to champion LGBTQ rights.
“It’s a legacy discriminatory policy that has no basis in sound science any longer,” said Herbert, referring to the policy against people with HIV/AIDS in the British military. “It’s entirely safe for people to serve, and we think they should be free to do so.”
A public comment period on a bill that would ban so-called conversion therapy in England and Wales is underway. Herbert also expressed concern over the increasing backlash over efforts to expand rights to transgender people in the U.K.
“I’m troubled by the debate,” he said. “I recognize that … this is a that a complicated issue where you have an assertion of conflicting rights. But I don’t think it’s acceptable to see some of the sort of angry exchanges of language that has been seen over the course of the last few months.”
“It’s very damaging,” added Herbert.
Herbert noted to the Blade that Johnson rose Hungary’s anti-LGBTQ crackdown with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán when the two men met in May in London. Herbert also highlighted the British government in June will host a global LGBTQ rights conference that will coincide with London Pride’s 50th anniversary.
“The prime minister, by the way, has always been very ready to raise these issues, both when foreign secretary and now as prime minister, which is why I think he wants to hold this conference on the agenda,” said Herbert.
“We have to stand together with other countries to express our concern about what is happening,” he added. “We also must take a strong stance against culture wars, and I think governments joining in culture wars results in harm to citizens.”
U.K. has ‘historic responsibility’ for anti-LGBTQ laws in former colonies
Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in dozens of countries around the world, and many of them are former British colonies.
Then-Prime Minister Theresa May in 2018 said she “deeply” regrets colonial-era criminalization laws the U.K. introduced. Herbert spoke with the Blade two days after the Botswana Court of Appeals upheld a 2019 ruling that decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country.
“We want to work with our partners in encouraging countries to try to change those laws,” Herbert told the Blade.
He stressed the British government has “to guard against any idea that we’re being so neocolonial,” while adding the U.K. has a “historic responsibility for these laws and their legacy.”
“The position we approach (with) this is one of respect where we, along with other countries, are encouraging decriminalization,” said Herbert. “We want to work with countries that will work with us to support them in that journey. We have to recognize that all countries have been on a journey.”
Herbert noted to the Blade that homosexuality was criminalized in the U.K. when he was born.
“We need to remember that other countries are different points of the journey, but it doesn’t all happen at once. And they have to make their own decisions on this and we have to encourage them to support them to do,” he said. “I don’t think that this is a case of Britain lecturing, certainly not a case of dictating. It’s a question of encouraging.”
Herbert also questioned the use of sanctions against countries that enact anti-LGBTQ laws.
The British government late last year sanctioned three Chechen officials who are responsible for the anti-LGBTQ crackdown in the semi-autonomous Russian republic that continues. Herbert described these sanctions as “justified,” but said the British government has “to be careful of blunt instruments that may backfire.”
“There can be different ways to make our feelings known and to encourage countries to do the right thing,” he said.
Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine on Thursday criticized efforts to prevent transgender youth from accessing health care.
“Unfortunately, some have fought to prevent transgender youth from accessing the health care that they need,” she said in a speech she delivered at the opening of the Victory Fund’s 2021 International LGBTQ Leaders Conference that took place in-person at the JW Marriott in downtown D.C. “This is politics and this politics has no place in health care and public health and they defy the established standards of care written by medical experts.”
Levine was Pennsylvania’s Health Secretary until President Biden nominated her to become assistant secretary of health.
She became the first openly trans person confirmed by the U.S. Senate in March. Levine in October became a four-star admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service.
The conference will take place in-person and virtually through Sunday.
An openly gay man in Honduras made history on Sunday when he won a seat in the country’s Congress.
Grajeda will serve alongside Congresswoman-elect Silvia Ayala of the leftist Free Party (Partido Libre), who represents Cortés department in which the city of San Pedro Sula is located, as her substitute.
Reportar sin Miedo, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Honduras, and Agencia Presentes, reported Grajeda received more than 100,000 votes. Grajeda is one of five openly LGBTQ candidates who ran for Congress.
“I am looking to open spaces and eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity,” said Grajeda.
Tegucigalpa Mayor Nasry Asfura, a member of outgoing President Juan Orlando Hernández’s ruling National Party (Partido Nacional), on Tuesday conceded defeat to President-elect Xiomara Castro of the Free Party.
Castro’s husband, former President Manuel Zelaya, was ousted from power in a 2009 coup.
Activists with whom the Blade has spoken say LGBTQ Hondurans continue to flee the country and migrate to the U.S. in order to escape rampant violence and discrimination and a lack of employment and educational opportunities. Castro, among other things, has publicly endorsed marriage rights for same-sex couples in Honduras.
The Dutch government on Saturday formally apologized to transgender and intersex people who were forced to become sterile in order to legally change their gender.
The Gender Change Act, which was also known as the Transgender Act, was in effect in the Netherlands from 1985 until its repeal in 2014.
Education, Culture and Science Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven and Law Minister Sander Dekker last year on behalf of the Dutch government apologized to trans and intersex people who had undergone forcible sterilizations. The Dutch government also agreed to pay 5,000 euros ($5,633.68) to around 2,000 trans people who had sterilization surgeries.
A ceremony did not take place because of the pandemic.
Van Engelshoven issued Saturday’s the formal apology during a meeting with trans and intersex people that took place at the Ridderzaal, a 12th century building in The Hague that the Dutch government uses for speeches from the country’s royal family and other important ceremonial events.
“For decades we have had a law that has harmed transgender and intersex people,” said van Engelshoven. “People have undergone medical treatment that they did not want, or have been forced to postpone becoming themselves. Today, on behalf of the entire Cabinet, I make our deepest apologies. Recognition of and apologies for what has been done to these people and which has caused a lot of grief for those involved is extremely important and is central to this special day in the Ridderzaal.”
Transgender Netwerk Nederland in a press release said the Netherlands is the first country in the world to issue such an apology. The advocacy group notes the Dutch government last month began to compensate trans and intersex people who were forcibly sterilized, but adds the amount of money they will receive remains too low.
“The government has structurally disadvantaged and damaged transgender and intersex people for almost 30 years,” said Willemijn van Kempen, who spearheaded the campaign for the formal apology. “It is important that it now apologizes for that.”