An 18-year-old man in Jamaica remains hospitalized in critical condition after he was targeted on a gay dating app.
The Jamaica Gleaner reports the victim on Oct. 11 went to a neighborhood in Montego Bay, a resort city that is the capital of Jamaica’s St. James Parish, to meet the man with whom he was speaking.
The newspaper reports the man and two other men abducted the victim, robbed him and partially severed his penis before they set him on fire. Officials said the three men took his cell phone and used his bank card to withdraw money from his account.
“He is a very lucky young man because although they left him in a critical condition, he managed to make his way to a security checkpoint in the community where they assisted him to the hospital, where he was admitted in critical condition,” a local police officer told the Jamaica Gleaner.
The Jamaica Gleaner reported a 43-year-old man in St. James Parish disappeared in January 2020 after he went to meet someone with whom he had spoken on a gay dating website. Authorities later found the man’s body, and two men have been charged with his murder.
Violence against LGBTQ Jamaicans remains commonplace. Consensual same-sex sexual relations also remain criminalized in the country.
J-FLAG, a Jamaican LGBTQ rights group, has condemned the latest attack.
“Like all well-thinking Jamaicans at this time, JFLAG is outraged at the recent attack on an 18-year-old man in St. James,” tweeted J-FLAG on Sunday. “His attackers must be brought to justice.”
The U.S. on Thursday regained a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council, three years after the previous administration withdrew from it.
The U.S. won election to the council alongside Argentina, Benin, Cameroon, Eritrea, Finland, Gambia, Honduras, India, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Montenegro, Paraguay, Qatar, Somalia and United Arab Emirates.
The council in recent years has emerged as a champion of LGBTQ rights around the world, even though Cuba and other countries with poor human rights records are among the 47 countries that are currently members. Venezuela and Russia are also on the council.
Russia’s crackdown on LGBTQ rights and the Kremlin’s close relationship with Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov continue to spark criticism around the world.
Then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley during a 2018 press conference that announced the U.S. withdrawal from the council noted Cuba and other countries “with unambiguous and abhorrent human rights record” are members. Haley also said the council has a “chronic bias against” Israel.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Thursday in a statement said LGBTQ rights will be one of the U.S.’s focuses once it officially rejoins the council on Jan. 1.
“Our initial efforts as full members in the Council will focus on what we can accomplish in situations of dire need, such as in Afghanistan, Burma, China, Ethiopia, Syria and Yemen,” she said. “More broadly, we will promote respect for fundamental freedoms and women’s rights, and oppose religious intolerance, racial and ethnic injustices, and violence and discrimination against members of minority groups, including LGBTQI+ persons and persons with disabilities. And we will oppose the council’s disproportionate attention on Israel, which includes the council’s only standing agenda item targeting a single country.”
President Biden in February issued a memorandum that commits the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad.
The previous White House tapped then-U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell to lead a campaign that encouraged countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations, but many LGBTQ activists in the U.S. and around the world have questioned its effectiveness. The Washington Blade in August filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department that seeks Grenell’s emails around his work on the decriminalization initiative.
“The President and Sec. Blinken have put democracy and human rights—essential cornerstones of peace and stability—at the center of our foreign policy,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Thursday after the U.S. regained a seat on the council. “We have eagerly and earnestly pursued these values in our relationships around the world.”
“We will use our position to renew the council’s focus on the core human rights principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the U.N. Charter, which undergird the council’s founding,” added Price at the beginning of his daily press briefing. “Our goal is to hold the U.N. Human Rights Council accountable to the highest aspirations of its mandate and spur the actions necessary to carry them out.”
Colorado has become the first state in the country to include transition-related care for transgender people as part of the requirements for essential health care in the state, the Biden administration announced on Tuesday.
As part of the change, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services approved the state’s request to provide gender-affirming care in the individual and small group health insurance markets as part of Colorado’s Essential Health Benefit benchmark.
Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra said in a statement the change is consistent with the Biden administration’s goal of eliminating barriers faced by transgender people in access in health care, including transition-related coverage.
“Health care should be in reach for everyone; by guaranteeing transgender individuals can access recommended care, we’re one step closer to making this a reality,” Becerra said in a statement. “I am proud to stand with Colorado to remove barriers that have historically made it difficult for transgender people to access health coverage and medical care.”
According to HHS, Colorado plan will require insurers to cover a wider range of services for transgender people in addition to benefits already covered, such as eye and lid modifications, face tightening, facial bone remodeling for facial feminization, breast/chest construction and reductions, and laser hair removal.
In addition to these changes, Colorado s also adding EHBs in the benchmark plan to include mental wellness exams and expanded coverage for 14 prescription drug classes, according to the HHS. These changes, per HHS, will take effect beginning on Jan. 1, 2023.
CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a statement health care should be “accessible, affordable and delivered equitably to all, regardless of your sexual orientation” (notably leaving out gender identity from that quote).
“To truly break down barriers to care, we must expand access to the full scope of health care, including gender-affirming surgery and other treatments, for people who rely on coverage through Medicare, Medicaid & CHIP and the Marketplaces,” Brooks-LaSure said. “Colorado’s expansion of their essential health benefits to include gender-affirming surgery and other treatments is a model for other states to follow and we invite other states to follow suit.”
According to the Washington Post, Biden administration signed off on the change before officials made the announcement Tuesday in Denver in an event with Gov, Jared Polis, the first openly gay man elected governor in the United States.
Katie Keith, a lawyer and co-founder of Out2Enroll, is quoted in the Washington Post as saying despite the change significant issues remains for transgender people in health care.
“There’s been significant progress, but we’ve seen exclusions by some health plans — it got worse under the Trump administration — and that’s why it’s important to see states like Colorado stepping up to fill those gaps,” Keith is quoted as saying.
U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power on Oct. 7 met with LGBTQ activists in the Dominican Republic.
Diversidad Dominicana Executive Director Rosanna Marzán, Amigos Siempre Amigos Director Leonardo Sánchez, Sirana Dolis of Movimiento de Mujeres Dominico Haitianas (MUDHA) and Bridget Wooding of the Caribbean Migration and Development Observatory (OBMICA) are among those who met with Power in Santo Domingo, the Dominican capital. Power in a tweet said she also met with human rights activists who are working to “restore legal documentation” for the more than 100,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent who live in the country.
The Dominican Republic borders Haiti on Hispaniola.
The Dominican House of Representatives in June approved a bill that would remove sexual orientation from the country’s Penal Code. The Dominican Senate has yet to consider the measure that has sparked outrage among the country’s LGBTQ activists.
Power traveled to the Dominican Republic two months after Haitian President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) is leading a group of senators on Assistant Secretary of Health Rachel Levine, the first openly transgender person to obtain Senate confirmation as a presidential appointee, to issue new guidance on mental health care needs for transgender youth.
“Our goal is to help mental health providers offer the best care they can to the nation’s TGE youth without a delay in treatment,” the letter says. “The focus of this request is for the pressing needs of hospital or residential care even as we recognize the need for guidance across all settings of mental health care.”
Specifically, the senators call on the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council, or BHCC, and experts in the field of adolescent transgender care to offer guidance on best practices for inpatient mental health care among these youth.
The senators address the letter to Levine, who in addition to being transgender has a background in care for adolescent youth, and Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use.
Cited in the letter are findings from the Trevor Project, an organization that supports LGBTQ youth, which determined more than half of transgender and non-binary youth seriously contemplated killing themselves in 2020.
“While behavioral health and pediatric organizations have published resources regarding TGE health care, we have heard from hospital providers they are seeking guidance on best practices for serving gender diverse youth in community residential and inpatient mental health settings,” the letter says.
The seven senators who signed the letter along with Murphy are Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
An HHS spokesperson for Levine’s office, in response to the letter, told the Washington Blade: “We have received the letter and will be reviewing it.”
Members of France’s National Assembly on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill that would ban so-called conversion therapy in the country.
Têtu, a French LGBTQ magazine, reports conversion therapy practitioners would face two years in prison and a €30,000 ($34,652.55) fine. Those who administer the widely discredited practice to a minor would face three years in prison and a €45,000 ($51,978.82) fine.
Practitioners could also lose their medical license for up to 10 years.
The bill, which a member of President Emmanuel Macron’s party introduced, now goes to the French Senate.
Malta is one of the handful of countries that ban conversion therapy.
Fifty-two countries have signed a statement that urges the U.N. Human Rights Council to protect the rights of intersex people.
“We call on all member states to take measures to combat violence and discrimination against intersex persons, develop policies in close consultations with those affected, ensure accountability, reverse discriminatory laws and provide victims with access to remedy,” said Amb. Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, Austria’s permanent U.N. representative in Geneva, in a statement she read to the council on Monday. “We also call on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and on the Special Procedures of this Council to continue addressing and to scale up action against violence and discrimination based on sex characteristics within their mandates and in their work.”
The U.S., India, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Fiji, Brazil, the Marshall Islands, Namibia and Uruguay are among the countries that have signed the statement.
“Discrimination, stigmatization, violence, harmful practices in medical settings and several other human rights violations continue to occur around the world for people born with diverse sex characteristics. Actions have to follow those statements,” reads a statement that interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth, Intersex Asia Network, Intersex Human Rights Australia, Brújula Intersexual, SIPD Uganda, Organisation Intersex International (OII) Europe, OII Chinese, GATE and ILGA World released on Monday.
“States need to take strong and urgent action to uphold their obligation to ensure that intersex people live free from all types of violence and harmful practices, including in medical settings,” they added. “Irreversible medical interventions (such as genital surgeries, hormonal interventions and medical procedures intended to modify the sex characteristics of infants and children without their full, prior, and informed consent) continue to be the rule — not the exception — in the majority of U.N. member states.”
The U.S. in 2018 withdrew from the council. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in February announced the U.S. will “reengage” with it.
The Biden administration announced on Tuesday $2.21 billion in new funding under the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program for cities, counties, states and local community-based organizations providing care for low-income people with HIV/AIDS.
This funding is provided under the fiscal year 2021 budget through the Health Resources & Services Administration, or HRSA, supports a comprehensive system of HIV primary medical care for an estimated 560,000 people with HIV in the United States, according to the Department of Health & Human Services.
Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra said in a statement the funding represents the latest in efforts in three decades of the department fighting HIV/AIDS.
“These funds support viral suppression that saves lives, reduces health disparities, and slows the spread of HIV. We will continue to support the Biden-Harris Administration’s goal of ending the HIV epidemic in the United States.”
The announcement comes on the heels of HRSA’s Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program awarding in March $99 million for the Ending the HIV Epidemic Initiative, which seeks to reduce new HIV transmission in the United States by 90 percent by 2030.
“Our Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program is a groundbreaking effort that has made extraordinary progress over the years toward ending the HIV epidemic in the U.S.,” HRSA Acting Administrator Diana Espinosa said in a statement. “These grants support life-saving care, treatment, and medication that improves health outcomes and reduces HIV transmission to patients across the country.”
Administrators this week in the Davis School District, which is Utah’s 2nd largest school district with 72,987 students, banned LGBTQ Pride and Black Lives Matter flags, saying they are ‘politically charged.’
According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, Davis Schools spokesperson Chris Williams told the paper; “No flags fly in our schools except for the flag of the United States of America.” Williams later walked that statement back adding a clarification that some of the Districts schools have flags from sports team or international countries which are considered “unrelated to politics.”
“What we’re doing is we’re following state law,” said Williams. “State law says that we have to have a classroom that’s politically neutral.”
Amanda Darrow, Director of Youth, Family, and Education at the Utah Pride Center in Salt Lake City, told multiple media outlets the school district is “politicizing the rainbow flag” which doesn’t belong on a political list.
“That flag for us is so much more,” said Darrow. “It is just telling us we’re included in the schools, we are being seen in the schools, and we belong in these schools.”
KUTV CBS2 News in Salt Lake City checked with the Utah State Board of Education. In an email, spokesman Mark Peterson said, “There is nothing in code that specifically defines a rainbow flag as a political statement so it would be up to district or charter school policies to make that determination.”
The local Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union also weighed in saying in a statement;
“Whether or not a school district has the legal ability to ban inclusive and supportive symbols from classrooms, it is bad policy for them to do so,” the advocacy organization said in a statement. “Utah schools have an obligation to ensure that all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identify, feel welcome inside a classroom. We urge school administrators and teachers to adopt policies that make all students feel safe and included.”
Williams insisted the policy is not meant to exclude anyone and that all students are loved and welcomed – they just want to keep politics out of school he told the Tribune and KUTV.
“We have to have a politically neutral classroom, and we’re going to educate the students in the best possible way that we can,” said Williams.
A Utah based veteran freelance journalist, writer, editor, and food photographer weighed in on Twitter highlighting the negative impact of the Davis Schools decision on its LGBTQ youth.
The director of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Colombia mission says he and his colleagues remain committed to the implementation of the country’s LGBTQ-inclusive peace agreement.
“The entire portfolio that we have and all of our work here in Colombia is really to support a durable and an inclusive piece,” Larry Sacks told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 during an interview in Bogotá, the Colombian capital. “The core principles of what we do are based on equality, inclusion, rights and justice.”
The agreement then-President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia Commander Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londoño signed in Cartagena on Sept. 26, 2016, specifically acknowledged LGBTQ Colombians as victims of the decades-long conflict that killed more than 200,000 people. The accord also called for their participation in the country’s political process.
Wilson Castañeda, director of Caribe Afirmativo, an LGBTQ group in northern Colombia with which USAID works, is one of three activists who participated in the peace talks that took place in Havana.
Colombian voters on Oct. 2, 2016, narrowly rejected the agreement in a referendum that took place against the backdrop of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from religious and conservative groups. Santos and Londoño less than two months later signed a second peace agreement — which also contains LGBTQ-specific references — in Bogotá.
“That was a very progressive move,” said Sacks in describing the inclusion of LGBTQ Colombians in the agreement.
President Iván Duque, who campaigned against the agreement ahead of his 2018 election, spoke to the U.N. General Assembly hours before the Blade interviewed Sacks. Duque described it as “fragile.”
“Peace accords worldwide tend to be made or broken within the first five years of implementation, and Colombia is right at that point,” Sacks told the Blade when asked about Duque’s comments. “There are certain people deep in the territories and others and high governments who are really helping and making sure that it’s successful, and that there’s continuity, and that the gains that have been made are irreversible. And there’s others who may question, but at the end of the day, I think that from our analysis, it’s on pace with what we’ve seen of the implementation of other peace accords worldwide.”
“At least from USAID’s perspective, we’re doing everything that we can to help support the implementation on multiple chapters of the peace accord,” he added.
USAID specifically supports the implementation of rural development programs through the agreement, efforts to reintegrate former child soldiers into Colombian society and expand the government’s presence into “violence-affected areas.” USAID also works with the Truth Commission, the Unit for the Search of Disappeared Persons, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, the government’s Victims’ Unit and NGOs that support the conflict’s victims.
USAID’s fiscal year 2021 budget for Colombia is $212.9 million. Upwards of $50 million of this money is earmarked for human rights work that specifically focuses on indigenous Colombians and Colombians of African descent, security, access to the country’s justice system and victims of the conflict.
More than 200 LGBTQ Colombians reported murdered in 2020
Sacks said USAID’s LGBTQ-specific work in Colombia focuses on four specific areas.
“The first is really to kind of shine a light on, raise the visibility, raise the profile on issues of discrimination and violence and stigma and all the issues that this population is facing,” he said.
Colombia Diversa, a Colombian LGBTQ rights group, on Sept. 15 issued a report that notes 226 LGBTQ people were reported murdered in the country in 2020. This figure is more than twice the number of LGBTQ Colombians — 107 — who Colombia Diversa said were known to have been killed in 2019.
Sacks acknowledged anti-LGBTQ violence is increasing in Colombia.
He said the mission works with Ombudsman’s Office of Colombia, an independent agency within the Colombian government that oversees human rights protections in the country, to provide additional support to LGBTQ rights groups. Sacks noted USAID also works with the Interior Ministry to “support the development of their LGBTQI-plus policies” and the country’s attorney general “to hold those accountable.”
Sacks told the Blade that USAID also works to provide “technical and legal support to help” LGBTQ Colombians and other vulnerable groups “access public goods, services and justice.”
USAID-supported groups assist Venezuelan migrants
The Colombian government earlier this year said there were more than 1.7 million Venezuelan migrants in the country, although activists and HIV/AIDS service providers with whom the Blade has spoken say this figure is likely much higher. Duque in February announced it would legally recognize Venezuelan migrants who are registered with the country’s government.
The Coordination Platform for Migrants and Refugees from Venezuela notes upwards of 5.4 million Venezuelans have left the country as of November 2020 as its economic and political crisis grows worse. The majority of them have sought refuge in Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Chile.
Venezuelan migrants are among the upwards of 570,000 people who have benefitted from a USAID program that provides direct cash assistance — between $49-$95 per family — for six months in order to purchase food and other basic needs. USAID also supports Americares, a Connecticut-based NGO that operates several clinics along the Colombia-Venezuelan border and in northern Colombia that specifically serve Venezuelan migrants with the support of the Colombian Health Ministry.
Sacks noted USAID has an “agreement with” Aid for AIDS International, a New York-based group that serves Venezuelans with HIV/AIDS. Aid for AIDS International has used this support to conduct a survey of 300 sex workers in Maicao, Medellín and Cali.
USAID is also working with the Health Ministry to provide health care to Venezuelan migrants with HIV/AIDS, among others, who are now legally recognized in Colombia.
Caribe Afirmativo has opened three “Casas Afirmativos” in Maicao, Barranquilla and Medellín that provide access to health care and other services to Venezuelan migrants who are LGBTQ and/or living with HIV/AIDS. Medellín officials have also invited Caribe Afirmativo staffers to speak with LGBTQ migrants in the city’s public schools.
“Colombia has shown a generosity that you don’t see in many other countries with regard to migrant populations,” Sacks told the Blade. “They really open their borders, their homes, their hearts, to migrants, including the LGBTI community.”
Biden global LGBTQ rights memo is ‘tremendous benefit’
Sacks said the memo “gives us the political framework with which to operate and obviously sends a message from the highest levels of the U.S. government about LGBTQI-plus rights and equality and inclusion.”
“So for us, it’s a tremendous benefit,” he told the Blade.
USAID Administrator Samantha Power — a vocal champion of LGBTQ rights — has yet to visit Colombia, but Sacks said she has spoken with Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez.