A Hong Kong court on Tuesday dismissed a government bid to deny same-sex married couples the right to rent and own public housing saying that it was “discriminatory in nature” and a complete denial of such couples’ rights.
The ruling by Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal is the latest in a series of legal breakthroughs for gay rights advocates in the global financial hub this year.
The government had challenged two High Court rulings that it was “unconstitutional and unlawful” for the city’s housing authority to exclude same-sex couples who married abroad from public housing.
The appeal involved two cases, one in which the authority had declined to consider a permanent resident’s application to rent a public flat with his husband, because their marriage in Canada was not recognized in Hong Kong.
The other involved a same-sex couple who were denied joint-ownership of a government-subsidized flat by the authority because their marriage in Britain was not recognized in Hong Kong.
Court of Appeal justices Jeremy Poon, Aarif Barma and Thomas Au said in a written judgment that the authority’s treatment of gay married couples was “discriminatory in nature” and they should be afforded equal treatment.
“The differential treatment in the present cases is a more severe form of indirect discrimination than most cases because the criterion is one which same-sex couples can never meet,” the judges said in their ruling.
One of the men involved in the second case, Henry Li, welcomed the ruling in a post on Facebook.
Rights group Hong Kong Marriage Equality also welcomed the decision saying it had made clear “that discrimination and unequal treatment on the ground of sexual orientation has no place in public policy decisions.”
Hong Kong’s top court in September ruled against same-sex marriage but acknowledged the need for same-sex couples “for access to an alternative legal framework in order to meet basic social requirements.”
The government was given two years to come up with the framework.
A Hong Kong court in September sided with a married lesbian couple who argued that both women should have parental status over their child born via reciprocal IVF.
Activists in other parts of Asia are watching Hong Kong’s courts in the hope that their rulings could influence campaigns for reform elsewhere.
The consideration and passage by Uganda’s government of one of the world’s harshest anti-gay laws have unleashed a torrent of abuse against LGBTQ people, mostly committed by private individuals, rights groups said on Thursday.
The Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA), which was enacted in May, prescribes the death penalty for certain same-sex acts. At least six people have been charged under it, including two accused of the capital offense of “aggravated homosexuality”.
But the report, authored by a committee of the Convening for Equality (CFE) coalition, said the main perpetrators of human rights abuses against LGBTQ people this year — including torture, rape, arrest and eviction — were private individuals.
It said this pointed to the way the law and the rampant homophobic rhetoric that preceeded its passage earlier in the year had radicalized the public against the LGBTQ community.
For example, the report said mob-aided arrests had become increasingly common “because AHA has put LGBTIQ+ persons on the spot as persons of interest, and the public seems to be the custodians of enforcing the witch hunt.”
Between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, researchers documented 306 rights violations based on the victim’s sexual orientation and gender identity, with state actors the perpetrators in 25 of those cases.
By contrast, reports by rights activists in 2020 and 2021 found that state actors were responsible for nearly 70% of the rights violations documented in those years. The report did not provide comparative figures for 2022.
Ugandan Information Minister Chris Baryomunsi was not immediately available for comment.
The report’s authors said they had documented 18 instances in which the police conducted forced anal examinations of people in their custody to gather “evidence” of homosexuality.
“Surviving a forced anal examination at police is something that lives with you forever,” it quoted one survivor as saying.
Police spokesman Fred Enanga said he had not yet read the report and could not comment.
The report cautioned that its statistics could not be considered exhaustive given the difficulties LGBTQ people face reporting violations.
The climate of fear and intimidation unleashed by the law has also led to rising cases of mental health conditions in the LGBTQ community, including suicidal thoughts, it said.
A court in Nigeria has released on bail 69 people who were arrested last month in connection with an alleged gay wedding, which is illegal in the country, their lawyer said on Tuesday.
In Nigeria, like in most parts of Africa, homosexuality is generally viewed as immoral on cultural and religious grounds, and the country implemented an anti-gay law in 2014 despite international condemnation.
A court sitting in southern oil-producing Delta state ruled that the suspects would be released from prison detention after posting 500,000 naira ($645) bail each to the court, lawyer Ochuko Ohimor said.
The suspects, who did not appear in court, were ordered to sign a register at the court in Warri town once a month until their next hearing, said Ohimor.
“They are to provide sureties, who will submit their particulars to the court. So, the 69 suspects have been granted bail and I am processing their paperwork,” Ohimor said.
State prosecutors had opposed bail but the court ruled that the suspects should be released because they were not facing a capital offense, said Ohimor.
State prosecutors could not be immediately reached for comment.
The anti-gay law in Africa’s most populous nation includes a prison term of up to 14 years for those convicted, and bans gay marriage, same-sex relationships, and membership of gay rights groups.
Canada, citing the risk of potential dangers, is advising LGBTQ travelers planning trips to the United States to check how they might be affected by recently passed laws in some states, Ottawa said Tuesday.
Anti-LGBTQ demonstrations in the U.S. last year rocketed 30-fold compared with 2017 and legal moves to restrict LGBTQ rights are on the rise.
Canada’s travel advisory for the U.S. now includes a cautionary message for those who consider themselves two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning or intersex — or 2SLGBTQI+ for short.
“Some states have enacted laws and policies that may affect 2SLGBTQI+ persons,” the advisory says. “Check relevant state and local laws.”
The advisory did not specify which states it was referring to.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the government employed experts “to look carefully around the world and to monitor whether there are particular dangers to particular groups of Canadians.”
Speaking to reporters in Atlantic Canada, she added: “Every Canadian government … needs to put at the center of everything we do the interest and the safety of every single Canadian and every single group of Canadians. That’s what we’re doing now.”
She declined to say whether any talks had been held with President Joe Biden’s administration before making the change. The overall risk profile for the U.S. remains at green, indicating a normal security precautions requirement.
The U.S. is Canadians’ top travel destination, and in June residents returned from about 2.8 million trips south of the border. About 1 million people, 4% of the Canadian population aged 15 years and older, are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or of another sexual orientation than heterosexual, according to official data released last year.
The Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ advocacy organization in the U.S., has declared a national state of emergency, citing the proliferation of legislation in state capitols aimed at regulating the lives of queer people.
The U.S. Embassy in Ottawa did not have an immediate comment.
A 20-year-old man has become the first Ugandan to be charged with “aggravated homosexuality,” an offense punishable by death under the country’s recently enacted anti-gay law, prosecutors and his lawyer said.
Defying pressure from Western governments and rights organizations, Uganda in May enacted one of the world’s harshest laws targeting the LGBTQ community.
It prescribes life in prison for same-sex intercourse. The death penalty can apply in cases deemed “aggravated,” which include repeat offenses, gay sex that transmits terminal illness, or same-sex intercourse with a minor, an elderly person or a person with disabilities.
According to a charge sheet seen by Reuters, the defendant was charged on Aug. 18 with aggravated homosexuality after he “performed unlawful sexual intercourse” with a 41-year-old man. It did not specify why the act was considered aggravated.
“Since it is a capital offence triable by the High Court, the charge was read out and explained to him in the Magistrate’s Court on (the) 18th and he was remanded,” Jacqueline Okui, spokesperson for the office of the director of public prosecutions, told Reuters.
Okui did not provide additional details about the case. She said she was not aware of anyone else having been previously charged with aggravated homosexuality.
Justine Balya, an attorney for the defendant, said she believed the entire law was unconstitutional. The law has been challenged in court, but the judges have not yet taken up the case.
Balya said four other people have been charged under the law since its enactment and that her client was the first to be prosecuted for aggravated homosexuality. She declined to comment on the specifics of his case.
Uganda has not executed anyone in around two decades, but capital punishment has not been abolished and President Yoweri Museveni threatened in 2018 to resume executions to stop a wave of crime.
The law’s enactment three months ago drew widespread condemnation and threats of sanctions. Earlier this month, the World Bank suspended new public financing to Uganda in response to the law.
The United States has also imposed visa restrictions on some Ugandan officials, and President Joe Biden ordered a review of U.S. aid to Uganda.
Artist Carmen Rose used to perform regularly in Malaysia, until a police raid last year put an end to the veteran drag queen’s act and fueled the fears of the LGBTQ community at a time when Islamists are rapidly gaining political clout.
Since the raid, during which several party-goers were arrested, Rose has stopped doing shows, and rarely ventures out in public in costume.
“It’s always a risk going out in drag. If there was a raid, who do we call? Do we bring our boy clothes just in case?” said Rose, who declined to disclose her non-drag identity due to fears of reprisal. “They see us as sexual deviants or sinners.”
Queer Malaysians and rights groups told Reuters that LGBTQ communities face increasing scrutiny and discrimination under Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s government, despite the longtime opposition leader’s reputation as a progressive reformer.
Analysts say Anwar, who took office after a November general election, is under pressure to bolster his Islamic credentials among the Muslim majority in the face of an increasingly popular ultra-conservative opposition that has steadily gained more political ground since the vote.
Malaysia’s opposition bloc includes Islamist party PAS, which promotes a strict interpretation of sharia law and opposes LGBTQ rights. The party holds the most number of seats in parliament for the first time ever, and its gains in state elections this month reinforced its political influence.
A PAS lawmaker recently said LGBTQ people should be classified as “mentally ill.” Another PAS leader urged the government to cancel a concert by Coldplay because the band supports queer rights.
“Anwar doesn’t feel politically stable, so he has to be more Islamic than the other side,” said James Chin, a political analyst at the University of Tasmania in Australia.
Sodomy is a crime in Malaysia, which also has Islamic sharia laws banning same-sex acts and cross-dressing. The multi-ethnic, multi-faith country has a dual-track legal system with Islamic laws for Muslims running alongside civil laws.
While Anwar has never expressed support for the LGBTQ community, activists say they expected him to show more tolerance as he advocated for an inclusive society during his 25 years in the opposition.
“There was some hope when Anwar came to power that the reform agenda would seep in to some extent,” said Dhia Rezki Rohaizad, deputy president of JEJAKA, an organization that supports gay, bisexual and queer men.
“It’s disappointing that it has not happened. At the very least, we had hoped that they would just leave us alone, not be actively persecuting us.”
Discrimination and threats
Anwar vowed this year that Malaysia would never recognize LGBTQ rights.
His government has banned books for “promoting the LGBT lifestyle”, detained demonstrators expressing support for queer rights and confiscated Pride-themed watches made by Swiss watchmaker Swatch.
Last month, authorities halted a music festival, after the frontman of British pop band The 1975 kissed a male bandmate onstage and criticized Malaysia’s anti-LGBTQ laws.
Asked about the government’s position on LGBTQ rights, government spokesperson and communications minister Fahmi Fadzil told Reuters: “Whatever the prime minister has said is the position.”
Some analysts say Anwar’s uncompromising stance on LGBTQ rights stems from a desire to wipe out doubts about his own sexuality which surfaced after he was jailed for nearly a decade for sodomy. Anwar has repeatedly said the charges were fabricated and politically motivated, but some political opponents still question his Islamic values.
Activists say online harassment and death threats against queer Malaysians are rampant on social media, while undercover police often attend LGBTQ-friendly events. Many groups now ensure there are lawyers at these events in case of a raid.
Thilaga Sulathireh, founder of LGBTQ advocacy group Justice for Sisters, said the government’s rejection of queer Malaysians was tantamount to a human rights violation.
“This has emboldened the conservatives and the right wing, it allows discrimination and violence to take place against LGBT people with impunity,” said Sulathireh, who uses they/them pronouns.
Justice for Sisters is receiving more queries from LGBTQ Malaysians seeking asylum in other countries, they said, adding that the community is also increasingly adopting self-censorship to stay under the radar.
Drag queen Carmen Rose said she canceled a show this year, fearing another crackdown. She occasionally performs in neighboring Singapore, and is now considering leaving Malaysia.
“This is not me running away. I’m just tired and I have to also think about myself and my own happiness,” she said.
A federal judge temporarily blocked an Idaho law requiring public school students to use the restroom corresponding to their assigned sex at birth, in a lawsuit brought by the family of a transgender middle school student.
U.S. District Judge David Nye said his temporary restraining order Thursday did not weigh on the merits of the case, but said that preserving the status quo until he could fully consider it was “the most fitting approach at the current juncture.”
“The court’s ruling will be a relief for transgender students in Idaho, who are entitled to basic dignity, safety, and respect at school,” Peter Renn of Lambda Legal, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.
The office of Idaho Attorney General Raul Labrador did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The student’s family, under the pseudonym Rebecca Roe, and a student association sued the state last month. They said that the state law, signed by Republican Gov. Brad Little in March, illegally discriminates on the basis of gender identity and violates students’ right to privacy.
Republican-led states have passed numerous bills targeting transgender youth in the last two years, including what are called “bathroom bills” like Idaho’s and bans on gender-affirming medical treatments for minors.
Idaho’s bathroom bill allows students to sue schools for $5,000 if they encounter a transgender student in a bathroom the law forbids. That effectively puts a “bounty” on transgender students and encourages others to search them out, the lawsuit said.
The new law says schools must provide a “reasonable accommodation” for transgender students unwilling or unable to use their assigned bathroom. The lawsuit alleges that such alternate accommodations are “often inferior to the facilities used by others, located in less accessible locations, and stigmatizing for them to use.”
Federal courts have been divided on school policies requiring transgender students to use the restroom corresponding to their birth sex, with the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals finding a Virginia school’s policy illegal, and the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit upholding one in a Florida school.
The rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have taken center stage ahead of Spain’s July 23 national election.
Opinion polls predict Alberto Nunez Feijoo’s conservative People’s Party (PP) will win the election after four years of coalition government by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialists and the leftist Unidas Podemos.
But Feijoo would likely need the support of the far-right Vox party to form a government. Vox has strongly opposed LGBTQ rights.
Here is what you need to know.
Why are LGBTQ+ advocates worried?
Local elections in May paved the way for PP-Vox coalitions in several Spanish municipalities.
Vox made headlines in May by hanging a sign from a Madrid building showing a hand dropping cards with symbols representing feminism, communism, the LGBTQ community and Catalan independence into a rubbish bin.
A new Vox-led authority in the small eastern town of Naquera last month said it would no longer display the rainbow-colored flag on public buildings.
In Valdemorillo, a small town near Madrid, the new PP-Vox council cancelled a performance of a theatre adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel “Orlando,” in which the protagonist changes gender.
What do right-wing parties advocate?
Both Vox and the PP have promised to take action against some pro-LGBTQ measures passed by the left-wing government.
They have both pledged to change a self-determination law that came into force in March, allowing trans people over 16 to change their legal gender simply by informing the official registry, rather than undergoing two years of hormone treatment.
The law also allows children over 14 to change their legal gender with parental approval.
The PP and Vox, as well as some women’s rights groups, argue the legislation puts women in single-sex spaces at risk and have accused the left of forcing children to medically transition.
“Changing your sex is easier than getting a driver’s license,” Feijoo said. Vox party leader Santiago Abascal said “the ‘trans law’ discriminates against women.”
But the parties have not clarified which parts of the law they would revoke. The legislation also banned so-called conversion therapy, which aims to change someone’s sexual orientation and gender identity, and unnecessary surgery on intersex babies, who are born neither exclusively male nor female.
Both the PP and Vox declined to answer requests for comment.
Vox has also proposed allowing parents to take their children out of sex education classes and lessons covering sexual and gender diversity.
What do LGBTQ activists say?
Spain is fourth in the ranking of European countries’ LGBTQ rights by advocacy group ILGA-Europe, but LGBTQ activists said a PP-Vox government would roll back their rights.
Several international surveys rank Spain amongst the most LGBTQ-friendly societies in the world, although hate crimes against the community rose by 68% between 2019 and 2021, Interior Ministry data showed.
A right-wing government could also target LGBTQ rights by failing to implement existing laws, said Uge Sangil, head of LGBTQ umbrella group, FELGTB.
“We could go back 40 years,” Sangil said.
For some, a PP-Vox coalition could also delay long-awaited measures such as including a nonbinary option on identity documents.
“It would not only mean bring a setback in rights — we would also have practically no chances of moving forward,” said Darko Decimavilla, a nonbinary activist.
Over half of Americans surveyed in the last year reported facing online harassment and hate during their lifetime, including more than 75% of transgender respondents, advocacy group Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said on Wednesday.
ADL’s fifth such annual survey showed that reports of online hate and harassment over the last 12 months increased within almost every demographic group.
About 52% of the survey respondents reported having faced online harassment, compared to 40% in the survey’s previous year.
“We’re confronted with record levels of hate across the internet, hate that too often turns into real violence and danger in our communities,” said ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, urging tech and social media platforms to do more to tackle online hate.
The rate of harassment stood at 76% for transgender people, while 26% of Jewish respondents, 38% of Black Americans and 38% of Muslims said they had been harassed online at some point in their life.
Excluding transgender people, 47% of the LGBTQ+ community respondents reported online harassment.
“Due to the recent proliferation of extreme anti-transgender legislation and rhetoric, ADL sampled transgender individuals separately this year,” the advocacy group said.
Republican-led states have signed a flurry of bills relating to transgender youth, which proponents say are aimed at protecting minors and opponents say limit their rights. Some states have banned teachers of younger children from discussing gender or sexuality, while conservative lawmakers have also proposed or passed laws restricting drag performances.
Earlier this month, President Joe Biden warned about “ugly” attacks from “hysterical” people who he said were targeting LGBTQ Americans, especially transgender youth.
The survey of 2,139 adults and 550 teenagers was conducted online from March 7 through April 6 by YouGov, a public opinion and data analytics firm, on behalf of ADL. It oversampled respondents who identified as LGBTQ or as members of various minorities.
Of those who reported being harassed, 54% indicated harassment took place on Facebook, 27% said it took place on Twitter and 21% said it occurred on Reddit.
A Christian-owned wellness center is exempt from the federal law prohibiting employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.
The unanimous three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that Braidwood Management, which runs an alternative health center in Texas, cannot be sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over its policy that employees who engage in homosexual or gender non-conforming conduct will be fired.
Circuit Judge Jerry Smith wrote for the majority that without the shield, the company would be forced to “comply wholeheartedly” with policy it sees as “sinful,” upholding a ruling by U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth.
However, the court reversed O’Connor’s ruling that Braidwood could bring the case as a class action on behalf of other religious businesses. That means the exemption now only applies directly to Braidwood.
Smith was joined by Circuit Judges Edith Clement and Cory Wilson. All three judges were appointed by Republican presidents.
The EEOC and a lawyer for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Braidwood sued the EEOC after the agency updated its enforcement guidance in 2021 to reflect the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, which said bias against gay and transgender workers is a form of unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The company said it was run according to Christian beliefs, including opposition to homosexuality and upholding specific gender roles. It had sought a court order shielding it from EEOC enforcement under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 federal law limiting government agencies’ ability to burden anyone’s religious freedom.
The company is separately suing the Biden administration over the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that health insurance plans, including those funded by employers, cover preventive care services including HIV-preventing drugs, which Braidwood also says violates its beliefs. O’Connor, who is also presiding over that case, ruled in the company’s favor in that case, though the order is partly on hold for now.