The murder of a prominent transgender activist in Argentina has sparked outrage across the country.
Clarín, an Argentine newspaper, reports Alejandra Ironici was found dead in her home in Santa Fe, a city in Santa Fe province that is roughly 285 miles northwest of Buenos Aires, the country’s capital, on Sunday.
Ironici’s 22-year-old nephew found her body at around 11 p.m. local time (10 p.m. ET).
Reports indicate Ironici’s body showed signs that she had been beaten and burned. A 32-year-old man with whom Ironici had been in a relationship has been charged aggravated feminicide and transfemicide.
Ironici, 45, in 2012 became the first trans person in Argentina to legally change their gender on their national ID document without a court order. She was also the first trans woman to undergo sex reassignment surgery at a public hospital in the country.
Ironici was the first openly trans person elected to Santa Fe’s city government.
Activists who participated in a march in Santa Fe on Monday demanded justice for Ironici.
Esteban Paulón, an LGBTQ and intersex activist in Argentina who lives in Santa Fe province, on Tuesday told the Washington Blade that he knew Ironici for more than 20 years.
Paulón said Ironici “more than anything was a militant, was a committed person who gave everything she had and more to the community.”
“She was one of the biggest motivators behind many of the advances that we have achieved in the province,” Paulón told the Blade.
“Alejandra Ironici’s femicide is evidence that machismo, patriarchy and violence is taking lives with impunity,” added Paulón.
ATTTA (Asociación de Travestis, Transsexuales y Transgéneros de Argentina) in a statement noted Pancha Quebracha, a well-known drag queen in Mar del Plata, a city in Buenos Aires province, was found dead inside her home on Sunday. ATTTA pointed out violence and discrimination based on gender identity remains commonplace in Argentina, even though the country remains at the forefront of the global LGBTQ and intersex rights movement.
“The life expectancy for trans women in Argentina is 41 years,” said ATTTA. “Our community faces violent situations that often times end in transfemicides because of machismo and patriarchal impunity.”
ATTTA in its statement also calls upon Argentina’s government to strengthen existing laws that are designed to protect LGBTQ and intersex people and to implement “an agenda of public policies where nobody is left behind.”
An American soldier who texted him on Aug. 26, 2021, 11 days after the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan, told him to go to Kabul International Airport. Khan, along with a group of other LGBTQ and intersex Afghans and members of the country’s special forces, were able to pass through Taliban checkpoints after a mullah with whom they were traveling said they were going to their cousin’s house for a child’s funeral. The group of LGBTQ and intersex Afghans were able to enter the airport, but Khan and several soldiers who were members of the country’s special forces were outside the perimeter when a suicide bomber killed more than 180 people at a gate the U.S. Marines controlled. They returned after the attack, but were then forced to leave.
Khan was still in Kabul on Aug. 30, 2021, when the last American forces withdrew from the country.
Kabul Luftbrücke, a German group, on March 18, 2022, evacuated Khan from Kabul to Pakistan. Khan arrived in Germany less than a month later and now lives in Korbach, a city in the country’s Hesse state.
Khan’s partner and many other LGBTQ and intersex Afghans he knows remain in Afghanistan.
“I’m still hoping that an angel will come and will save their lives before the Taliban finds them,” Khan told the Washington Blade on Monday.
Khan is among the LGBTQ and intersex Afghans who have been able to leave Afghanistan since the Taliban regained control of the country.
Dane Bland, the director of development and communications for Rainbow Railroad, on Monday told the Blade the Toronto-based organization has been able to evacuate 247 LGBTQ and intersex Afghans to the U.S., the U.K., Canada and Ireland.
A group of 29 LGBTQ and intersex Afghans who Rainbow Railroad helped evacuate from Afghanistan with the help of the British government and two LGBTQ and intersex rights groups in the country — Stonewall and Micro Rainbow — arrived in the U.K. on Oct. 29, 2021. A second group of LGBTQ and intersex Afghans reached the country a few days later.
Taylor Hirschberg, a researcher at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health who is also the Hearst Foundation scholar, said he has helped upwards of 70 LGBTQ and intersex Afghans and their families leave the country.
“I know that there are some people who are still fighting to get people out, but now it has come down to a trickle,” Hirschberg told the Blade on Monday.
A Taliban judge in July 2021 said the group would once again execute gay people if it were to return to power in the country.
A report that OutRight Action International and Human Rights Watch released earlier this year notes a Taliban official said his group “will not respect the rights of LGBT people” in Afghanistan. The report also documents human rights abuses against LGBTQ and intersex Afghans, including an incident in which the Taliban beat a transgender woman and “shaved her eyebrows with a razor” before they “dumped her on the street in men’s clothes and without a cellphone.”
OutRight Action International on Monday told the Blade that it has had “at least one confirmed report of the killing of an LGBTQ activist, police searching for another and several more reports of extrajudicial killing and other forms of persecution that are difficult to confirm given the danger to political witnesses.”
“The U.S. and other governments that profess support for human rights need to do more to ensure the Afghan regime respects fundamental rights of all Afghans and help those in danger to reach safety,” said OutRight Action International.
Bland said Rainbow Railroad “absolutely” feels “governments, including the governments of the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States, should be doing more to help LGBTQI+ Afghans fleeing the current crisis.”
Immigration Equality Legal Director Bridget Crawford on Monday noted her organization’s LGBTQ and intersex Afghan clients who “survived unspeakable trauma, both as a consequence of sharia law and existing brutal homophobic practices” are “now safely resettled in Canada.” Crawford nevertheless added that Immigration Equality recognizes that “many more queer people are still at grave risk in Afghanistan.”
“The Biden administration must prioritize these LGBTQ Afghans as refugees in the United States,” said Crawford. “President Biden himself has expressed that the U.S. has the good will and capacity to take in vulnerable refugees, but he must back up those words with action.”
State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Monday told reporters during a briefing that nearly 90,000 Afghans have been “evacuated or otherwise transported to the” U.S. since Aug. 15, 2021. Price also noted the U.S. has “facilitated the departure of some” 13,000 Afghans from Afghanistan since the last American troops withdrew from the country.
“There are a number of priorities, a number of enduring commitments we have to the people of Afghanistan,” said Price. “At the top of that list is to use every tool that we have appropriate to see to it that the Taliban lives up to the commitments that it has made publicly, that it has made privately, but most importantly, the commitments that the Taliban has made to its own people, to all of the Afghan people. And when we say all of the Afghan people, we mean all. We mean Afghanistan’s women, its girls, its religious minorities, its ethnic minorities. The Taliban has made these commitments; the Taliban, of course, has not lived up to these commitments.”
Price, who is openly gay, did not specifically refer to LGBTQ and intersex Afghans during Monday’s briefing.
Hirschberg said Canada, France, Germany and the U.K. have “come to bat” and “are really supporting getting LGBTQI Afghans out, along with others.” He told the Blade the U.S. has not done enough.
“We’re not seeing quite the eagerness from the United States, unfortunately,” said Hirschberg.
The Blade has reached out to the White House for comment on the first anniversary of the Taliban regaining control of Afghanistan and efforts to help LGBTQ and intersex Afghans leave the country.
Ukraine overshadows plight of LGBTQ and intersex Afghans
Russia on Feb. 24 invaded Ukraine.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees notes more than 6 million Ukrainians have registered as refugees in Europe.
The European Union allows Ukrainians to travel to member states without a visa.
Germany currently provides those who have registered for residency a “basic income” that helps them pay for housing and other basic needs. Ukrainian refugees can also receive access to German language classes, job training programs and childcare.
Dr. Ahmad Qais Munhazim, an assistant professor of global studies at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia who is originally from Afghanistan, has helped three groups of Afghans leave the country since the Taliban regained control of it.
Munhazim on Monday noted to the Blade his family has lived in a Toronto hotel room for three months. Munhazim also pointed out the treatment that Ukrainian refugees once they reach the EU, the U.K., Canada or the U.S.
“Countries of course would claim they were not prepared, but we can see that it was a very racialized response,” said Munhazim. “The way they responded to Ukraine, they weren’t prepared for that either, but we know that these borders immediately started opening up, assistance was offered in a very, very humanitarian way to Ukrainians just because they had blond hair and blue eyes, which was not offered to Afghans or Syrians earlier when they were fleeing Syria.”
Maydaa told the Blade that countries had “this huge concern about LGBT people coming from Afghanistan.”
“It was related to, I believe, terrorism and all this prejudgment of Afghan people,” said Maydaa. “I also think this is playing a huge role when it comes to resettlement and international action.”
Maydaa, like Munhazim, also noted the different reception that Ukrainian refugees have received once they reached the EU or the U.K.
“They, especially in Europe and the U.K., feel they have more responsibility towards Ukraine,” said Maydaa. “[There was] all this racism on the news. ‘They look like us. They are blonde, green eyes, white skin, Christians.’”
Dmitry Shapoval is a 24-year-old gay man from Ukraine who lives with HIV.
He was working at an IT company’s call center and studying web and UX design in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, in February when Russia launched its war against his country. Shapoval swam across a river and entered Poland less than a month later.
Shapoval now lives in Berlin with his cat Peach and has begun the process of resettling in Germany.
“I feel very secure here,” Shapoval told the Washington Blade on July 22 during an interview at Berlin’s Palais Populaire by Deutsche Bank on the city’s Unter den Linden boulevard.
Shapoval is one of the more than 900,000 Ukrainians who have arrived in Germany since the war began.
Ukrainians are able to enter Germany without a visa, and the German government provides those who have registered for residency a “basic income” that helps them pay for housing and other basic needs that include food. Ukrainian refugees can also receive access to German language classes, job training programs and childcare.
Anastasiia Baraniuk and her partner, Yulia Mulyukina, were living together Dnipro, a city on the Dnieper River in central Ukraine, when the war began.
Mulyukina, who is from Russia, was living in Moscow when she and Baraniuk began to talk online. Mulyukina traveled to Lviv in western Ukraine via Istanbul to meet Baraniuk, who is a Ukrainian citizen.
Mulyukina on July 22 told the Blade at Palais Populaire that she asked the Russian Embassy in Kyiv for help when the war began. Mulyukina said officials suggested that she “ask Ukraine what to do.”
“I was really shocked that my own country, with this idea of bringing peace, bringing quiet to Ukraine, just rejected me entirely,” she said in Russian as Shapoval translated.
Baraniuk, who also spoke with the Blade in Russian, said the Ukrainian government and a local NGO provided them with food and money.
The couple had planned to stay in Ukraine, but they decided to leave after Mulyukina “heard five explosions” while she was walking to a store. The two women’s friends gave them money to buy train tickets to Poland.
Insight, a Ukrainian LGBTQ and intersex rights organization, helped Baraniuk and Mulyukina and their cat enter Poland. They spent a week there before they arrived in Berlin on April 28.
Shapoval met them when they arrived at the train station.
Shapoval, Baraniuk and Mulyukina are among those who attended a reception that took place at the end of a two-day meeting the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration organized that took place in Berlin from July 21-22.
Activists from Ukraine, Germany, Poland, Romania, Moldova, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Italy and the U.S. attended the gathering that had a stated goal of starting “the conversation about long-term/mid-term needs and solutions for LGBTIQ Ukrainians and incite collaboration among stakeholders working with LGBTIQ Ukrainians and third-country nationals.”
“We were thrilled to bring together activists and human rights defenders from 10 countries and 20 organizations to develop medium and long-term strategies to support displaced LGBTIQ Ukrainians and third country nationals,” ORAM Executive Director Steve Roth told the Blade after the meeting. “All these organizations, including ORAM, have done an amazing job getting emergency support and services to LGBTIQ Ukrainians in need. As the war in Ukraine drags on, it’s more important than ever for organizations to coordinate efforts and plan for supporting longer term needs. This two-day roundtable in Berlin was a great step in that direction.”
ORAM has partnered with Airbnb.org and Alight (formerly known as the American Refugee Committee) to provide more than 1,000 nights of short-term housing to LGBTQ and intersex Ukrainians and other displaced people in Germany and other countries in Europe. Shapoval, Baraniuk and Mulyukina are among those who live in such apartments.
Roth noted ORAM has begun to develop “a housing collective” for LGBTQ and intersex Ukrainians in Berlin. He said ORAM rents the apartments in which the refugees can live for up to six months, “allowing them to register in Berlin, access social welfare and other services.”
“Safe and secure housing is one of the most urgent needs facing displaced LGBTIQ Ukrainians,” Roth told the Blade. “It’s an essential element in getting settled and rebuilding lives.”
Baraniuk helped carry ORAM’s banner during the parade, while Mulyukina took pictures for the organization.
‘Stop Russian aggression’
Kyiv Pride Executive Director Lenny Emson is one of LGBTQ and intersex activists from Ukraine who participated in the ORAM meeting and in the parade.
He told the Blade before the parade began that he took several trains from Kyiv to Poland before he flew to Berlin. Emson said the trip took two days.
“I understand that it is a safe ground, but I still have those flashbacks,” Emson told the Blade as he smoked a cigarette in front of a hotel near the parade staging area. “When you were sitting in the conference room and I saw something that reminds me of an air raid siren I was getting a panic attack. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a safe place.”
Emson also took issue with parade organizers’ opposition to war.
“Unfortunately, we as the Ukrainian community here (are) very disappointed with the motto that Berlin Pride put on the main stage: No war,” said Emson. “This doesn’t reflect the feelings that we have right now.”
“We would like to actually say it loud: Stop Russian aggression,” he added. “We need action right now. We need to stop it. We need to stop Russian aggression. We need to stop it right now.”
A group of marchers held a blue and yellow — the colors of Ukraine’s flag — banner that read “Arm Ukraine: Make Pride in Mariupol possible” while others simply carried the Ukrainian flag.
A man carried a homemade sign that read “Arm Ukraine: Make Pride in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, Zaporizha, Kryvyi Rih possible again.” Viktoriya, a woman from northern Ukraine who is now pursuing her PhD in Berlin, held a cardboard poster that noted her homeland’s “queer soldiers are fighting for all of us.”
“I’m marching for both rights of queer people and rights of Ukrainians: The right to live and the right for love,” she said as she marched towards Potsdamer Platz in the center of Berlin.
Discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity was commonplace in Ukraine before the war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last year pledged his country would continue to fight anti-LGBTQ and anti-intersex discrimination after he met with President Joe Biden at the White House.
Shapoval, who is dating a man he met last October when he traveled to Berlin, told the Blade that he received “looks” in Kyiv if he wore a pink shirt.
He was wearing a pair of purple sneakers during the interview. Shapoval said he would not have been comfortable wearing them if he were still in Kyiv.
“For me it was even harder because I had misery in Ukraine because of homophobes,” he said. “Even the gay community is so toxic in Ukraine because it’s all about toxic masculinity and all of that … I also had some experiences where gays were like, ‘Oh my gosh just cut your hair and then we will get in touch with you.’”
Shapoval has begun the process of applying for German residency.
“I fell in love with the city right from the beginning,” he said. “I found friends here.”
Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights, and others have noted transgender and gender non-conforming Ukrainians have not been able to leave the country because they cannot exempt themselves from military conscription. Another issue that LGBTQ and intersex Ukrainians have faced as they attempt to resettle in another country is the lack of legal recognition of their relationships.
A marriage equality petition that Kyiv Pride submitted to Zelenskky on July 12 received more than 28,000 signatures, which is higher than the threshold that requires him to consider it. Ukrainian law requires Zelenskky to respond to it within 10 days of receiving it.
Baraniuk and Mulyukina hope to resettle in the U.S. and Canada, but are unable to legally prove they are in a relationship. The U.S. has a marriage-based immigration system for bi-national couples, while the Canadian system requires them to be married or “common-law partners.”
The U.S. has approved Baraniuk’s resettlement request, but denied Mulyukina.
They said the process to legally prove they are together is prohibitively expensive.”Right now we are looking for a way to get the proof that we are a couple,” said Baraniuk. “We don’t want to stay in Berlin.”
Same-sex couples in Slovenia can now marry and adopt children after the country’s Constitutional Court on Friday ruled a law that limits marriage and adoption to heterosexual partners is unconstitutional.
Media reports indicate the court ordered the Slovenian National Assembly to amend the law within six months.
Slovenian voters in 2015 overwhelmingly rejected a law that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples. Same-sex couples have been able to enter into civil unions since 2017.
Neighboring Austria is among the European countries in which same-sex couples can legally marry.
“We welcome (the) Slovenia Constitutional Court decision that a marriage is a life union of two persons, regardless of gender and that same-sex partners can jointly adopt,” tweeted ILGA-Europe on Friday. “We urge the Slovenian government to ratify the decision ASAP so the (sic) equality can prevail.”
The special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad in an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade ahead of Pride month highlighted the White House’s efforts in support of LGBTQ rights around the world.
Jessica Stern pointed out to the Blade the State Department’s decision to offer passports with an “X” gender marker “is an important example of how we’re expanding resources to people who are targeted because of gender identity and expression.” She also noted U.S. embassies and consulates over the last year have publicly condemned violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Andrea González, a transgender activist in Guatemala who was shot to death on June 11, 2021, near her Guatemala City home, participated in the State Department’s International Visitors Leadership Program.
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols is among the U.S. officials who condemned González’s murder. William Popp, the U.S. ambassador to Guatemala, and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power visited the headquarters of González’s group, Reinas de la Noche, to express their condolences over her death.
The U.S. Consulate General in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, condemned the so-called honor killing of Doski Azad, a trans woman whose brother reportedly shot her in the head and chest in January after she returned to the region. The State Department in May 2021 in a statement to the Blade described the so-called honor killing of Ali Fazeli Monfared, an Iranian man whose relatives murdered him after they learned he was gay, as “appalling.”
Stern noted the Biden administration’s continued support of LGBTQ rights abroad also includes marriage equality in countries where activists say such a thing is possible through legislation or the judicial process.
“The administration acknowledges that married or not, LGBTQI+ people, couples and their families deserve full equality, access to legal protections and should have their families legally recognized,” she said. “All of this is consistent with President Biden’s commitment to LGBTQI+ equality and marriage equality specifically.”
President Biden in February 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy. The White House four months later named Stern, who was previously the executive director of OutRight Action International, as the next special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad.
Biden, who is Catholic, was vice president in 2012 when he publicly backed marriage equality during on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He spoke in favor of the issue before then-President Obama did.
A law that allows same-sex couples to marry and adopt children took effect in Chile in March.
Same-sex couples in Switzerland will be able to legally on July 1 after voters last November overwhelmingly approved a “Marriage for All” law.
Lawmakers in Cuba continue to consider a new family code that could pave the way for marriage equality on the island. Honduran President Xiomara Castro, who took office in January, has publicly backed marriage equality in her country.
The Privy Council’s Judicial Committee in London in March upheld a Bermuda law that rescinded marriage rights for same-sex couples. The same judicial body, which is an appellate court for British territories, also ruled same-sex couples don’t have a constitutional right to marry in the Cayman Islands.
She spoke with the Blade before she traveled to Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam. Stern will also visit Lithuania, Sweden and the Netherlands before she returns to the U.S. on June 8.
Malaysia is one of the upwards of 70 countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Mauritania are three of the handful of nations in which homosexuality remains punished by death.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price, who is openly gay, during a May 2021 interview with the Blade said the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the Biden administration’s five priorities in its efforts to promote LGBTQ rights abroad. Stern noted that “among a wider set of priorities, marriage equality is one element of our longstanding and ongoing commitment to advance the rights of LGBTQI+ persons.”
“All human beings should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, regardless of who they love,” she said.
Stern acknowledged potential critics of the White House’s efforts to champion marriage equality and other LGBTQ-specific issues around the world. Stern stressed, however, the “only thing that holds us back is hatred and intolerance.”
“We see autocracy is on the rise globally. We see that democratic institutions and democracies themselves are being undermined and we see LGBTQI+ people are often the canary in the coal mine,” she said. “We need to fight back against these homophobic and transphobic trends.”
The State Department on April 28 released a report on the implementation of Biden’s memo.
Stern noted Canada and Germany are among the other countries that have pledged to support LGBTQ rights abroad as part of their respective foreign policies.
“Every administration sets its own priorities. We know what a positive impact President Biden’s staunch support of LGBTQI+ rights has had on this community domestically and on our support for LGBTQI+ people internationally,” she said. “Thankfully, governments around the world are increasingly normalizing the idea that LGBTQI+ people are entitled to recognition under the law and affirming that their rights need to be an explicit part of a human rights agenda.”
First lady Jill Biden on Saturday announced the U.S. will provide an additional $80.9 million to the fight against HIV/AIDS in Latin America.
Biden during a visit to Casa Hogar el Buen Samaritano, a shelter for people with HIV/AIDS in Panama City, said the State Department will earmark an additional $80.9 million for President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief-funded work in Latin America. A Panamanian activist with whom the Washington Blade spoke said LGBTQ people were among those who met with the first lady during her visit.
Pope Francis visited the shelter in 2019.
“I’m glad we have the opportunity to talk about how the United States and Panama can work together to combat HIV,” said the first lady.
Michael LaRosa, the first lady’s spokesperson, noted Panama will receive $12.2 million of the $80.9 million in PEPFAR funding.
“This funding, pending Congressional notification, will support expanded HIV/AIDS services and treatment,” said LaRosa.
UNAIDS statistics indicate an estimated 31,000 Panamanians were living with HIV/AIDS in 2020. The first lady’s office notes the country in 2020 had the highest number of “newly notificated cases of HIV/AIDS” in Central America.
The first lady visited Panama as part of a trip that included stops in Ecuador and Costa Rica.
The Summit of the Americas will take place next month in Los Angeles. The U.S. Agency for International Development and PEPFAR in April announced they delivered more than 18 million doses of antiretroviral drugs for Ukrainians with HIV/AIDS.
A group of Democratic lawmakers have urged the State Department to do more to ensure countries recognize the same-sex partners of U.S. diplomats.
“We write regarding the continued challenges surrounding diplomatic accreditation faced by LGBTQI+ Department of State employees and their spouses,” reads an April 18 letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken that U.S. Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Dina Titus (D-Nev.) and Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) spearheaded. “This issue should be proactively raised in all relevant bilateral meetings by department leaders, especially at the chief of mission level abroad and at the front office or higher level domestically.”
The letter specifically notes upwards of 70 countries around the world “continue to deny visas to same-sex spouses.”
“This effectively renders a vast swath of overseas assignments unbiddable to many Foreign Service families,” reads the letter. “We are concerned that the Department of State has left this issue unresolved for too long, utilizing ‘workarounds’ instead of addressing the problem. We urge you to prioritize raising diplomatic accreditation for same-sex partners at the highest levels in all interactions internally and externally.”
The letter that more than 40 members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed indicates “several additional countries” in the Western Hemisphere, the Middle East and North Africa “are finalizing agreements to soon begin accrediting spouses of the same sex.”
“We understand that the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, through the leadership of Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Joey Hood, has been at the forefront of developing successful strategies for engagement on this issue with countries in their region,” reads the letter. “We hope that you will promote and employ the tactics developed by the NEA (Near Eastern Affairs) Bureau, such as raising the issue of diplomatic accreditation at the ambassadorial level in addition to management counselors and other working level officials, as well as encourage other regional, and where appropriate functional, bureaus to replicate this model.”
“We further urge you to promote equal diplomatic accreditation for LGBTQI+ spouses as a chief of mission priority in Integrated Country Strategies in countries where same-sex couples are currently denied full privileges and immunities and in other high-level department strategic planning,” it continues. “By including diplomatic accreditation as a mission priority, department leadership ensures that attention and resources are dedicated to advancing change. Additionally, we encourage you to develop a robust reporting mechanism that allows ambassadors and chiefs of mission to easily share feedback on successful or unsuccessful strategies, which can be used to the advantage of missions in similar situations.”
The letter also notes the Vienna Convention ensures “our diplomats and their family members should be accredited and receive full diplomatic protections and immunities in the countries to which they are assigned, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Former U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius, who co-founded LGBT+ Pride in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA) in 1992, is among those who expressed support for the lawmakers’ call.
“This initiative could put the United States in the lead when it comes to encouraging equal treatment for all families,” said Osius in a press release that announced the letter. “Inclusivity benefits everyone.”
The Obama administration in 2009 implemented a policy that asked countries to accredit same-sex partners of U.S. Foreign Service personnel on a “reciprocal basis” in order to receive diplomatic visas. The Biden White House last year issued a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad.
“We have made and continue to make strong efforts to engage foreign governments on the issue of same-sex spouse accreditation,” a State Department spokesperson told the Washington Blade on Wednesday.
The spokesperson did not specifically comment on the letter, but stressed “fostering diversity and inclusion in the department is a top priority.”
“The State Department is striving to recruit and retain a workforce of talented people that reflects the true diversity of our country, including in our appointments at the most senior levels,” said the spokesperson.
The spokesperson noted Blinken appointed former U.S. Ambassador to Malta Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley as the State Department’s first-ever chief diversity and inclusion officer. Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad, assumed her position last September.
“Globally, the United States advances the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons through bilateral and multilateral channels, raising official concerns with governments both publicly and privately, coordinating our response with like-minded countries, and offering emergency assistance to LGBTQI+ persons and groups at risk,” said the spokesperson. “ Through our foreign assistance programming, we support civil society by providing LGBTQI+ individuals and communities with the tools and resources to prevent, mitigate and recover from violence, discrimination, stigma, and other abuses. We also provide support for programs that empower local LGBTQI+ movements and work to eliminate laws that criminalize LGBTQI+ status and/or conduct.”
Human Rights First on Thursday released a report that documents the abuse of LGBTQ asylum seekers who entered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody after President Biden took office.
The report notes an ICE PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003) coordinator at the LaSalle ICE Processing Center in Jena, La., in October 2021 “prevented” a transgender Mexican man “from providing his attorney a draft copy of the complaint he wished to file” after he was sexually assaulted. Several trans asylum seekers at the same facility said guards “subjected them to transphobic verbal abuse and other mistreatment.”
“A Mexican transgender man reported that in August 2021 a guard pointed at him and said, ‘How many of them are there? That’s not a real man.’,” reads the report. “Guards intentionally called him ‘ma’am’ and ‘girl’ and used incorrect pronouns despite his repeated attempts to correct them.”
The report notes the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s Houston Asylum Office last spring “went forward with a CFI (‘credible fear’ interview)” for a gay activist from Angola, “even though he expressed that he was suffering symptoms of COVID-19, pain from a recent physical assault, and psychological distress from conditions of confinement, resulting in a negative credible fear finding.”
“The man told the asylum officer that he was experiencing anxiety and felt claustrophobic in the ‘tight space’ where the telephonic interview was being conducted,” reads the report. “The asylum officer proceeded with the CFI during which the man was unable to disclose that he is gay because he was afraid that the officer would inform others at the detention center of his sexuality.”
“He feared that such disclosure would further endanger his life since in detention he had been threatened and harassed by people who called him homophobic slurs, according to his attorney at the Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative,” it adds.
Asylum seekers with HIV denied medication
Pablo Sánchez Gotopo, a Venezuelan man with AIDS, died in ICE custody on Oct. 1, 2021. Sánchez had been in ICE custody at the Adams County Detention Center in Natchez, Miss., before his death.
The report not only mentions Sánchez’s death, but other cases of asylum seekers with HIV/AIDS who said they suffered mistreatment while in ICE custody. One case the report cites is a Cuban asylum seeker who said he was “denied access to HIV medication” while in ICE custody at La Palma Correctional Center in Eloy, Ariz., from April-July 2021.
“Despite sending around nine requests for treatment to medical staff, he reported to his attorney at Immigration Equality that he did not receive HIV medication for at least two-and-a-half months,” reads the report.
The report also documents the prolonged detention of asylum seekers who are LGBTQ and/or living with HIV.
Several trans women from Jamaica who were in ICE custody at La Palma Correctional Center and the Eloy Detention Center in Eloy, Ariz., “were subjected to months of traumatic and unnecessary detention before they received CFIs (‘credible fear’ interviews), which confirmed their fear of persecution.” The report notes ICE did not release a bisexual asylum seeker from Ghana from La Palma Correctional Center last spring until an immigration judge granted him bond, even though he passed his “credible fear” interview.
The report cites a trans asylum seeker from Honduras who the Department of Homeland Security detained at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego for two months, even though he received an exemption to Title 42 that allowed him into the U.S. last summer.
Title 42 is a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention policy that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the pandemic. The Biden administration earlier this month announced it will terminate the policy on May 23.
The report notes a gay asylum seeker from Senegal did not receive his “credible fear” interview until he had been in ICE custody for three months. The report also cites the case of an LGBTQ person from Russia who the Department of Homeland Security detained at La Palma Correctional Center, even though he and his partner asked for asylum together at a port of entry in California.
“Under its flawed enforcement priorities, which effectively treat asylum seekers as detention priorities and do not contain exemptions for sexual orientation or gender identity, the Biden administration has detained many LGBTQ asylum seekers for months in ICE detention centers where they are particularly vulnerable to violence,” reads the report.
The report cites studies that indicates detained LGBTQ asylum seekers are 97 times “more likely to experience sexual assault and abuse than non-LGBTQ individuals.”
“Transgender people face a high risk of violence, discrimination and medical neglect in ICE detention, which has resulted in multiple recent deaths,” reads the report. “DHS has long recognized that detained LGBTQ people have ‘special vulnerabilities’ based on sexual orientation and gender identity and issued guidance on release of transgender individuals. Yet despite a February 2021 memorandum committing to ‘protect the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons everywhere,’ the Biden administration continues to detain LGBTQ people, including asylum seekers who request protection at the border.”
Human Rights Report in its report makes a number of recommendations to the Biden administration, the Department of Homeland Security and Congress.
To the Biden administration:
End the mass jailing of asylum seekers and shift to community-based case support programs in cases where such support is needed. Community-based case support programs, which generate high appearance rates, should be used rather than “alternative to detention” programs that resort to punitive and intrusive ankle shackles and electronic surveillance or that amount to house arrest.
Do not designate or treat asylum seekers as priorities for detention, enforcement, or other punitive treatment. The administration and DHS should rescind the 2021 enforcement priorities memorandum and replace the policy with a protection framework that designates categories of individuals, including asylum seekers, as priorities for protection.
Support legislation, including the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act, limiting the use of immigration detention and mandating bond redetermination hearings before an immigration judge for anyone subjected to immigration detention.
Work with Congress to further reduce funding for immigration detention and to instead fund: case support programs; the cost effective and successful Legal Orientation Program (LOP), which should be expanded to border shelter networks as well as all DHS facilities where asylum seekers are held, including CBP and Border Patrol facilities; and expanded legal representation for asylum seekers and other immigrants.
To the Department of Homeland Security:
Apply all applicable parole, bond, and other criteria with a presumption that release of asylum seekers is in the public interest, consistent with U.S. human rights and refugee treaty obligations, including the right to liberty under the ICCPR.
Issue parole guidance that includes a presumption that release of asylum seekers serves a significant public interest. The guidance should: apply to all asylum seekers regardless of whether they requested asylum at ports of entry or after entering the United States away from a port of entry and regardless of whether they are subjected to expedited removal; prohibit the use of bond as a condition for release on parole; and make all individuals seeking protection, including those placed in reinstated removal proceedings (which should not be used), eligible for parole consideration under the guidance.
Issue regulations that include a strong presumption against the use of detention, shifting the burden of proof to the government instead of the non-citizen in all custody determinations to show by clear and convincing evidence that the non-citizen should remain detained.
The Office of Inspector General and Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties should closely monitor and investigate allegations of abuse, improper use of force and solitary confinement, detention center conditions, medical neglect, racist treatment, disparate impact on Black asylum seekers in ICE detention facilities. These investigations must include interviews with asylum seekers, attorneys, independent medical experts, rights monitors, and relevant non-governmental actors.
ICE and detention facility operators should work with communities to implement Independent Medical Oversight Boards (IMOB) to increase public transparency and accountability on the delivery of quality medical and mental health care for detained individuals. The IMOB should have authority to review individual cases and medical files brought before it by detained individuals, attorneys, or advocates to ensure adequate care. IMOB members could include medical and mental health professionals, representatives of advocacy or community-based groups, and attorneys familiar with detention settings.
Avoid the use of the flawed and inefficient expedited removal process and instead refer asylum seekers for asylum adjudication before the USCIS Asylum Office. As Human Rights First and other NGOs have repeatedly explained, these adjudications should not take place within or rely on the expedited removal process.
To the extent expedited removal remains in U.S. law, DHS and the Department of Justice should issue regulations to, at a minimum, ensure access to counsel before and during credible fear interviews; provide appropriate interpretation, prohibit CFIs from being conducted in a language other than the asylum seeker’s native or best language, and permit asylum seekers to apply for asylum without a CFI if an interpreter in their native or best language is not readily available; and revise the March 2022 Interim Final Rule to preserve to the fullest extent a critical asylum office mechanism for review of erroneous negative credible fear determinations. DHS should not conduct these flawed interviews in CBP or ICE detention.
To the U.S. Congress:
Adopt legislation, including the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act, limiting the use of immigration detention and mandating bond redetermination hearings before an immigration judge for anyone subjected to immigration detention.
Sharply limit funding for immigration detention to decrease its massive overuse and instead fund community-based case support programs, which should be employed only when additional measures are determined necessary to assure appearance in an individual case.
Support—along with state, local, and private entities—funding for universal legal representation without any carve-outs. Congress should also expand funding for LOP and improve access to counsel at immigration detention facilities, including by setting requirements for a minimum number of confidential attorney-client visitation rooms by facility capacity and guaranteeing in-person, contact visits for attorney- client meetings.
Conduct vigorous oversight on the administration’s compliance with laws, rules, and other authorities that authorize release of eligible asylum seekers from detention; access to counsel in detention; abuse, conditions, racist treatment, and disparate impact of detention on Black asylum seekers; continued violence, mistreatment, and unsafe placements of LGBTQ asylum seekers; unjustified and dangerous use of solitary confinement; and ICE’s failure to comply with necessary medical and mental health care to asylum seekers and immigrants in detention, as provided for by the NDS.
Ensure DHS complies with all legal requirements to provide data and information on the detention of asylum seekers, including reporting to Congress mandated by the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act of 1998. These reports have not been released publicly since the FY 2015 to 2017 reports were obtained through FOIA and posted by Human Rights First.
An ICE spokesperson on Friday in a statement to the Washington Blade responded to the report.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) focuses its civil immigration enforcement priorities on the apprehension and removal of noncitizens who pose a threat to our national security, public safety and border security,” said the spokesperson. “ICE takes seriously the health, safety, and welfare of those in our care, and commits to protecting their rights under the law.”
“In FY21, ICE shifted its operations away from the detention of families while adapting new and existing detention capacity to address an influx along the Southwest Border,” added the spokesperson. “ICE also previously announced it would discontinue or limit the use of certain detention facilities and will continue to monitor the quality of treatment of detained individuals, the conditions of detention, and other factors relevant to the continued operation of each facility, while assessing its operational needs for detention.”
Denmark and Honduras have joined a group of U.N. countries that have pledged to support to LGBTQ rights.
“Denmark is deeply honored to officially enter into the LGBTI Core Group,” tweetedDenmark’s Permanent Mission to the U.N. on Wednesday.
Reportar sin Miedo, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Honduras, says the country’s government “expressed interest” in joining the U.N. LGBTI Core Group, but it has not made a formal announcement.
The U.S., Albania, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Cabo Verde, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Montenegro, Nepal, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Peru, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the U.K. and Uruguay are also members of the U.N. LGBTI Core Group that Argentina and the Netherlands currently co-chair. The European Union, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and OutRight Action International are also members.
Discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity remains commonplace in Honduras.
President Xiomara Castro, who has publicly endorsed marriage rights for same-sex couples, took office in January. Víctor Grajeda, the first openly gay man elected to the country’s Congress, a few weeks later told the Blade during an interview in San Pedro Sula that Castro also supports the legal recognition of transgender Hondurans and “safe spaces” for LGBTQ people.
The State Department’s annual human rights report that was released on Tuesday notes anti-LGBTQ persecution and violence remains commonplace in many countries around the world.
The report notes consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in Jamaica and dozens of other countries. Iran and Afghanistan are two of the handful of nations in which homosexuality is punishable by death.
“Many fled the country after the takeover,” reads the report. “After the takeover, LGBTQI+ persons faced increased threats, attacks, sexual assaults, and discrimination from Taliban members, strangers, neighbors and family members.”
The report includes statistics from Associação Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais, a Brazilian transgender rights group, that indicate 80 trans people — most of whom were Brazilians of African descent who were younger than 35 — were reported killed in the first six months of 2021. The report also cites Cattrachas, a lesbian feminist human rights group in Honduras that noted 17 “violent deaths of LGBTQI+ persons” in the country between January and August 2021.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken pointed out to reporters there are more than 1 million political prisoners in 65 countries. These include Yoav de la Cruz, a gay Cuban man who was sentenced to six years in prison last month after he livestreamed the first anti-government protest that took place on the island on July 11, 2021.
The report notes Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s continued efforts to rollback LGBTQ rights, which include a decree his government issued on Aug. 6, 2021, that restricted the sale of children’s books with LGBTQ-specific themes. The report also includes incidents of anti-LGBTQ violence, discrimination and hate speech in Poland.
This report focuses on 2021, and does not include details of human rights abuses that Russian forces have carried out against Ukrainian civilians during the ongoing war in their country. Blinken nevertheless criticized Russia throughout his remarks.
“In many years running, we have seen an alarming recession in democracy, in rule of law, respect for human rights in many parts of the world,” said Blinken. “In the time since releasing our previous report, that backsliding has, unfortunately, continued. In few places have the human consequences of this decline have been as stark as they are in the Russian government’s brutal war on Ukraine.”
Blinken also described human rights as “universal.”
“People of every nationality, race, gender, disability and age are entitled to these rights, no matter what they believe, who they love, or any other characteristics,” he said. “This is especially important as a number of governments continue to claim, falsely, that human rights need to be applied based on global context. It’s no coincidence that many of the same governments are among the worst abusers of human rights.”
The report also notes LGBTQ rights advances around the world.
The Botswana Court of Appeals in November 2021 upheld a previous ruling that decriminalized homosexuality in the country. The report also notes the European Commission sanctioned Hungary over its efforts to curtail LGBTQ rights and Poland in response to so-called “LGBT-free zones.”
‘We do not claim a moral high ground’
President Biden in 2021 released a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad.
The White House last June named then-OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern as the next special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad. The State Department on Monday began to issue passports with “X” gender markers.
The State Department released its report less than a month after Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law his state’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Lawmakers in dozens of other states across the U.S. have introduced similar measures and others that specifically target transgender children.
“We’re not trying to pretend that these are not issues that we are grappling with here in the United States,” said Acting Assistant Secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Lisa Peterson in response to the Washington Blade’s question about the release of the report against the backdrop of anti-LGBTQ measures in the U.S. “This report, because it is very clearly focused on the rest of the world, we do dig in on other countries. We do not have a mandate to do a report on our own circumstances.”
“The universal nature of human rights also means that we have to hold ourselves accountable to the same standards,” said Blinken. “Even as this report looks outward at countries around the world, we’ve acknowledged from day one of this administration that we have challenges here in the United States.”
“We take seriously our responsibility to address these shortcomings and we know that the way we do it matters; together with citizens and communities, out in the open, transparent, not trying to pretend problems don’t exist, or sweeping them under a rug,” he added.
Peterson echoed Blinken before she took reporters’ questions.
“We can’t be credible advocates for human rights abroad if we don’t live up to the same principles at home,” said Peterson. “We do not claim a moral high ground, but we do, in the words of our Constitution, resolve to form a more perfect union, which means that we must continue to address the many human rights challenges in our own country.”