Police searched venues across the Russian capital, including a nightclub, a male sauna, and a bar that hosted LGBTQ+ parties, under the pretext of a drug raid, local media reported.
Eyewitnesses told journalists that clubgoers’ documents were checked and photographed by the security services. They also said that managers had been able to warn patrons before police arrived.
The raids follow a decision by Russia’s Supreme Court to label the country’s LGBTQ+ “movement” as an extremist organization.
The ruling, which was made in response to a lawsuit filed by the Justice Ministry, is the latest step in a decadelong crackdown on LGBTQ+ rights under President Vladimir Putin, who has emphasized “traditional family values” during his 24 years in power.
Activists have noted the lawsuit was lodged against a movement that is not an official entity, and that under its broad and vague definition authorities could crack down on any individuals or groups deemed to be part of it.
Several LGBTQ+ venues have already closed following the decision, including St. Petersburg’s gay club Central Station. It wrote on social media Friday that the owner would no longer allow the bar to operate with the law in effect.
Max Olenichev, a human rights lawyer who works with the Russian LGBTQ+ community, told The Associated Press before the ruling that it effectively bans organized activity to defend the rights of LGBTQ+ people.
“In practice, it could happen that the Russian authorities, with this court ruling in hand, will enforce (the ruling) against LGBTQ+ initiatives that work in Russia, considering them a part of this civic movement,” Olenichev said.
Before the ruling, leading Russian human rights groups had filed a document with the Supreme Court that called the Justice Ministry lawsuit discriminatory and a violation of Russia’s constitution. Some LGBTQ+ activists tried to become a party in the case but were rebuffed by the court.
In 2013, the Kremlin adopted the first legislation restricting LGBTQ+ rights, known as the “gay propaganda” law, banning any public endorsement of “nontraditional sexual relations” among minors. In 2020, constitutional reforms pushed through by Putin to extend his rule by two more terms also included a provision to outlaw same-sex marriage.
After sending troops into Ukraine in 2022, the Kremlin ramped up a campaign against what it called the West’s “degrading” influence. Rights advocates saw it as an attempt to legitimize the war. That same year, a law was passed banning propaganda of “nontraditional sexual relations” among adults, also, effectively outlawing any public endorsement of LGBTQ+ people.
Another law passed this year prohibited gender transitioning procedures and gender-affirming care for transgender people. The legislation prohibited any “medical interventions aimed at changing the sex of a person,” as well as changing one’s gender in official documents and public records.
Russian authorities reject accusations of LGBTQ+ discrimination. Earlier this month, Russian media quoted Deputy Justice Minister Andrei Loginov as saying that “the rights of LGBT people in Russia are protected” legally. He was presenting a report on human rights in Russia to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, arguing that “restraining public demonstration of nontraditional sexual relationships or preferences is not a form of censure for them.”
The Supreme Court case is classified and it remains unclear how LGBTQ+ activists and symbols will be restricted.
Many people will consider leaving Russia before they become targeted, said Olga Baranova, director of the Moscow Community Center for LGBTQ+ Initiatives.
“It is clear for us that they’re once again making us out as a domestic enemy to shift the focus from all the other problems that are in abundance in Russia,” Baranova told the AP.
Law enforcement authorities in Nigeria are using the country’s same-sex prohibition law to target the LGBTQ community while ignoring abuses against them, rights groups and lawyers say, in the wake of fresh mass arrests of gay people.
Mass arrests and detention of queer Nigerians that continued this week were done without proper investigations and could further expose them to danger amid the anti-LGBTQ sentiments in Africa’s most populous country, rights groups said.
The country’s paramilitary agency on Monday announced the arrest of more than 70 young people — 59 men and 17 women — in the northern Gombe state, accusing them of “holding homosexual birthdays” and having “the intention to hold a same-sex marriage.”
Following a similar detention of more than 60 people at what the police called a gay wedding in the southern Delta state in August, the arrests show “an uptick in this trend of witchhunt and gross violation of human rights” of the individuals, Isa Sanusi, director of Amnesty International Nigeria, told The Associated Press.
The arrests also suggest states are emulating one another “to get accolades” under the law, according to Anietie Ewang, Nigerian researcher with the Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division. She said concerns highlighted by the organization in a 2016 report — about the abuse and stigma that gay people face in Nigeria — have remained.
Nigeria’s Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act of 2013, which has been condemned internationally but is supported by many in the country of more than 210 million people, punishes gay marriage with up to 14 years in prison and has forced many Nigerian gays to flee the country, according to human rights activists.
Arrests under the law have been common since it came into effect but the largest mass detentions yet have been in recent weeks in which some of the suspects were falsely accused and subjected to inhumane conditions, according to lawyers and rights groups.
After dozens were arrested at what the police called a gay wedding in a Delta state hotel, the suspects were paraded in front of cameras in a live social media broadcast despite a ruling by a Nigerian high court last year that pretrial media parades violate the nation’s constitution.
One of those paraded said he was at the hotel for another engagement. Another suspect said he does not identify as a gay individual and was arrested while on his way to a fashion show.
In Gombe, where the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) said its personnel arrested people who “intended” to organize a gay wedding, the prime suspect identified as Bashir Sani denied the allegation.
“There was no wedding, only birthday,” he said in a broadcast aired by local media.
Among those arrested were the photographer and the disc jockey at the event, Ochuko Ohimor, the suspects’ lawyer, told The Associated Press.
It is part of a trend that shows how the anti-gay law is being “exploited” without due process, said Okechukwu Nwanguma, who leads the Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre, which advocates for police reforms in Nigeria.
One evidence of such a flawed process, lawyers said, is the failed trial of the 47 men arrested in 2018 and charged with public displays of affection for members of same sex at a hotel in Lagos. A local court dismissed the case in 2020 because of what it described as the “lack of diligent prosecution” after the police failed to present some witnesses.
“They (law enforcement authorities) are exploiting the law to target people whether or not they are queer … There is a tendency to target them based on assumptions or allegations, not based on any investigation,” said Nwanguma.
Such blanket arrests and media parade are not only discriminatory but also pose a high risk of further endangering people for their real or perceived sexual or gender orientation, said Amnesty International’s Sanusi.
“Since the signing of Same Sex Prohibition Act into law in 2014 attacks, harassment, blackmail and extortion of the LGBTQ+ community is rising, at disturbing speed. The Nigeria Police should be prioritizing keeping everyone safe, not stoking more discrimination,” he said.
Police spokespersons at the Nigeria Police Force headquarters and at the Delta state command did not respond to enquiries from the AP to speak on the arrests and on the allegations about the lack of due process in handling such cases.
Lawyers also spoke to the AP about instances where the police failed to act in handling cases of abuse against the LGBTQ community in Nigeria.
In 2020, David Bakare, a gay person, petitioned the police about a group of men who beat him up after he shared a video of himself dancing. The suspects were freed on bail after which they continued to threaten Bakare to withdraw the petition, a copy of which his lawyer shared with The AP.
Bakare then petitioned the police a second time to alert them that his life is in danger but no action was taken in response, he said. He had no choice but to flee to another part of Lagos.
“Since you can’t trust the police to do the necessary things, those guys will come again,” the 26-year-old said of his abusers.
The problem of delayed justice is not new in Nigeria where the criminal justice system has been criticized as corrupt. But it is far worse for groups such as the LGBTQ community seen to be vulnerable, said Chizelu Emejulu, an activist and lawyer who has handled many cases involving queer people.
“When we get the perpetrators arrested, the consistent thing we have noticed is that people always claim their victims are queer and once they say that, the police begin to withdraw from these cases,” said Emejulu.
“What the LGBTQ community in Nigeria is asking for is to be left alone to live their lives,” Emejulu added.
The Uzbekistan government should urgently act on recommendations made on November 8, 2023, during its fourth Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of its human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should take particular action to uphold the rights of human rights defenders, journalists and bloggers, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.
Several UN member states also said that Uzbekistan should ensure accountability for human rights abuses during protests in 2022 in Karakalpakstan, an autonomous region of Uzbekistan.
“The range and scope of concerns and recommendations that governments expressed during Uzbekistan’s review shows just how much work Uzbekistan has to do to meaningfully improve human rights conditions in the country,” said Mihra Rittmann, senior Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It’s important for Uzbekistan to act upon all the recommendations and not to pick and choose among the issues raised.”
All UN member states participate in the UPR process, a comprehensive review of the human rights record of each UN member state every four and a half years. The country under review, local and international organizations, and the UN itself can provide written input to inform the review process. Human Rights Watch submitted a briefing on Uzbekistan’s human rights record in March.
The Uzbekistan government claimed that out of 198 recommendations received at its last review, in 2018, it had fully implemented 171. At the review, countries praised Uzbekistan, including for ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, criminalizing domestic violence, and progress in eradicating forced labor in the cotton fields since its last review.
Yet, despite noting improvements in Uzbekistan’s law, countries from across all regions called on Uzbekistan to take concrete action to end gender-based violence, to uphold the rights of women and children, and to uphold the rights of people with disabilities.
Over a dozen UN member states urged Uzbekistan to improve the environment for nongovernmental organizations and to better protect the rights of human rights defenders, including streamlining the burdensome registration process for civil society groups. At the review, the Uzbekistan delegation dismissed the criticism. Human Rights Watch and other rights organizations have documented that the registration process is a barrier to independent human rights groupscarrying out their activities in Uzbekistan.
It is disappointing that other countries that had previously urged Uzbekistan to carry out an independent investigation into the human rights violations committed during the Karakalpakstan events, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and EU member states other than the Czech Republic, did not reiterate that call during the review process, Human Rights Watch said.
Over a dozen countries commented on rights issues pertaining to sexual orientation and gender identity, urging the Uzbekistan government to decriminalize consensual same-sex conduct and stop subjecting detainees in prosecutions of gay men to forced anal exams, an abusive practice that constitutes cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment that can rise to the level of torture and sexual assault under international human rights law.
The Uzbekistan government supported all the recommendations expressed by states, except for the 15 recommendations related to the rights of LGBT people. The government official’s reference to “generally accepted norms” to deny LGBT people’s rights deflects responsibility for abusive state practices and laws that exclude LGBT people from accessing their basic human rights, Human Rights Watch said.
With a notable increase in prosecutions of bloggers and journalists in the last two years, 14 countries spoke to the worrying situation for media freedom in Uzbekistan, making recommendations that Uzbekistan should create a “safe environment” for journalists, bloggers, and media workers, and ensure they can “work free from intimidation” both online and offline. Norway urged Uzbekistan to “immediately grant pardons” to all imprisoned journalists, bloggers, and activists.
Multiple countries also urged Uzbekistan to investigate allegations of torture, and to hold those responsible for torture and other forms of ill-treatment accountable, with a view of ending impunity. Many countries, including Brazil and Maldives, recommended that Uzbekistan ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.
“Given how serious the human rights situation is in Uzbekistan, it’s important for UN member states to follow up with the Uzbekistan government directly,” Rittmann said. “The work begins now to ensure that Uzbekistan takes concrete, meaningful action to advance the human rights of everyone, including LGBT people, in line with the UPR recommendations and international human rights law.”
When he made the tough choice to flee Uganda, in the wake of the country’s draconian anti-LGBTQ+ law being passed, activist Henry Mukiibi thought: “What have I left behind?”
Mukiibi, the executive director of LGBTQ+ group Uganda’s Children of the Sun Foundation (COSF), has been on the run and living in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, since earlier this year, after receiving information that the authorities at home wanted to arrest him under the new anti-homosexuality legislation.
The Anti-Homosexuality Act, which was enacted in May and carries the death penalty for certain same-sex acts, has unleashed a torrent of abuse against LGBTQ+ people in the country. Several queer individuals have beenarrested. Others, including Mukiibi, managed to escape as their government enacted one of the harshest anti-LGBTQ+ laws in the world.
Mukiibi tells PinkNews that the situation in Uganda is worse than it has ever been.
COSF’s services, which provide healthcare and legal assistance as well as shelter for vulnerable people, including members of the LGBTQ+ community, have been affected by the legislation.
Mukiibi says he witnessed people become “so homophobic” that they “started attacking” COSF committee members, “beating them because of who they are”.
He adds: “What we did was ask the people who are close to them to bring them to the clinic, and we are giving them healthcare services to see that they get treatment.
“Evictions have become too many because the bill had a phrase which said landlords should not give LGBT people shelter or houses to rent. Many people were evicted.
“Those whose landlords knew their identities, they were evicted because the landlords fear they will also be taken to prison.
“We welcomed those people into our shelter, but unfortunately, our shelter’s landlord wrote me an eviction letter since they know I’m a queer person.”
Under Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, queer people can face life imprisonment or even the death penalty in cases involving so-called “aggravated homosexuality”, which can include having sex with a minor or vulnerable person, having sex while HIV-positive or engaging in incest.
Someone simply advocating for LGBTQ+ rights could be jailed for 20 years, and individuals renting to LGBTQ+ people face up to a seven-year prison sentence.
Mukiibi says life is really hard in Nairobi as he waits to be resettled in another country. While fearing for his own safety, he still thinks about the LGBTQ+ community trying to survive in Uganda.
“If I’m evacuated, what am I leaving behind?” he asks. “They have this saying: ‘I cannot be a hero twice’.
“I’m also trying to see that we are working remotely so our community members get the services they need. The reason I came up with the idea of the clinic was that sometimes the LGBT community are discriminated against in facilities, and I recently witnessed it.
“People went [to] healthcare providers who are preaching to them to beat homosexuality out of children.”
Even before the Anti-Homosexuality Act was passed this year, LGBTQ+ people faced severe discrimination in Uganda
Uganda was already one of several African nations where it’s illegal to be queer and enacted a previous anti-homosexuality act in 2014. The courts struck it down, although being LGBTQ+ remained illegal because of previous legislation, according to Human Rights Watch.
Many in the Ugandan LGBTQ+ community have sought safety in Kenya, only to find they face discrimination there too.
Dhalie Bulyaba, the director of Safe Place International’s global family initiative, decided to leave Uganda and go to Kenya because they “wanted to find a place that wouldn’t question [them] about the way [they] dress, or ask for an explanation about how [they] identify”.
But they realised that seeking asylum and appealing to authorities “forces outings” of LGBTQ+ people.
“Kenya has one of the largest refugee populations in Africa,” Bulyaba says. “They receive a lot of people from Somalia, Sudan, the [Democratic Republic of the] Congo and other war-torn areas, so when you say you are coming from Uganda, they are confused.
“They will ask: ‘Why are you here? There is no war in Uganda’. You are forced to out yourself and hope for their mercy because Kenya also criminalises homosexuality.
“It’s hard enough to fight for your rights in your own country.”
LGBTQ+ people are criminalised in Kenya, and same-sex sexual activity between males carries a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment.
Sulah Mawejje, Safe Place International Dream Academy Kenya country director, says the World Bank and other organisations “need to be more proactive and less reactive” because they know the anti-LGBTQ+ movements in Africa are being funded by foreign organisations.
“Why have they waited for something like this anti-gay bill to pass before they impose sanctions and try to stand up to the government?” he asks.
“We could have prevented people being forced to flee and being forced to go through the very difficult process of becoming a refugee.”
Mawejje, a part-time interpreter for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, adds that he’s “much more than a refugee, a person who has faced unspeakable discrimination” while fleeing Uganda.
“There is another side to me, like many refugees, that the media doesn’t get to, I’m the life of the party,” he says. “I love being bold and challenging.”
To the shouts of “Shame!” in the courtroom, a judge in Russia last week sentenced a lesbian artist who criticized the country’s military actions in Ukraine in a supermarket protest last year to seven years in a penal colony.
Alexandra Skochilenko, 33, was convicted last Wednesday of spreading knowingly false information about the use of the armed forces and the government’s use of its authority. On March 31, 2022, Skochilenko, also known as Sasha, had switched out the price tags at a Perekrestok supermarket with stickers that looked like price tags but contained a series of antiwar messages. A witness alerted authorities, and Skochilenko was arrested April 11 under Article 207.3 of Russia’s Criminal Code, which in effect outlaws criticism of the Russian government and military.
Skochilenko admitted to leaving the messages but denied she committed a crime because, she said, she only told the truth. The court also heard that Skochilenko suffers from bipolar disorder, heart disease, PTSD, and celiac disease, and has a cyst in her right ovary.
On Wednesday, Judge Oksana Demyasheva sentenced her to seven years in prison.
Before the verdict was read, however, Skochilenko remained defiant.
“The state prosecutor said repeatedly that these five tiny pieces of paper were exceptionally dangerous to our state and society,” Skochilenko said in court Wednesday. “What weak faith our prosecutor has in our national society if he thinks that our state and our common security might collapse because of these tiny papers! What harm did I do? Who suffered because of my act? The prosecutor didn’t say a word about that.”
After the verdict was read, supporters of Skochilenko shouted “Shame!” and “We’re with you, Sasha!” according to the Kyiv Post.
“This manifestly unjust verdict concludes a case in which the only crimes committed are those that have gone unpunished. One is against Aleksandra Skochilenko herself, who, having been arbitrarily deprived of her freedom and held in torturous conditions for 19 months, now faces the prospect of seven years in a penal colony,” Marie Struthers, director of Eastern Europe and Central Asia for Amnesty International, said in a statement after the verdict was read. “The other is Russian aggression against the people of Ukraine, which Aleksandra was simply trying to expose. Her persecution has become synonymous with the absurdly cruel oppression faced by Russians openly opposing their country’s criminal war. The immediate and unconditional release of Aleksandra Skochilenko and all activists jailed solely for engaging in peaceful anti-war dissent is imperative.”
In a series of five tags available on a Save Sasha website, Skochilenko accused the armed forces of committing genocide, called Putin a liar, and described Russia as a fascist state.
“My great-grandfather did not take part in the Great Patriotic War [World War II] for four years in order for Russia to become a fascist state and attack Ukraine,” one of the stickers read.
Another sticker asked why state media was not covering the civilian death toll in Ukraine.
Skochilenko has remained steadfast in saying that her protests were strictly antiwar in nature and that she was concerned about the harm suffered by innocent victims in the Ukraine conflict. She also said her statements about the government and military were truthful.
Prosecutors presented expert witnesses who declared there was no fascism in Russia and that the government was truthful and just in its statements and actions regarding the armed forces and Ukraine.
“Skochilenko compares the Russian Federation with a fascist state; they [prosecution expert witnesses] explained that in the Russian Federation now there are no elements of a fascist state,” prosecutor Alexander Gladyshev declared in court. “The words that Russia attacked Ukraine are false; the purpose of the SVO [special military operation] was to protect the citizens of Donbas from aggression.”
“The Russian Ministry of Justice has lodged an administrative legal claim with the Supreme Court to recognize the International LGBT public movement as extremist and ban its activity in Russia,” the ministry said in a statementannouncing the move.
The ministry also accused the “movement” of exhibiting “various signs and manifestations of extremism, including incitement to social and religious hatred.”
In June, Russia passed a bill that banned gender-affirming surgery and treatment and outlawed changing official documents to align with a person’s true gender.
Last December, Putin signed a law strengthening a ban on LGBTQ “propaganda” in Russia and making it illegal to promote same-sex sexual relations or suggest non-heterosexual attractions are “normal.” Individuals can be fined up to 400,000 rubles ($6,370) for “LGBT propaganda” and up to 200,000 rubles ($3,185) for “demonstrations of LGBT and information that encourages a change of gender among teenagers.” The fines increase to 5 million rubles ($80,000) and 4 million rubles ($64,000) respectively for legal entities.
Olympian and WNBA star Britney Griner was held under harsh conditions in a Russian prison for nine months last year. She was held after empty vape cartridges containing remnants of THC were discovered in her luggage upon arrival in Moscow to play professionally in a local league. She was released in a prisoner exchange in December. Shortly after her release, Griner said she would never play overseas again unless it was in the Olympics.
Lawyers representing Skochilenko said they intend to appeal the conviction and sentencing.
The Russian Justice Ministry on Friday said it has filed a lawsuit with the nation’s Supreme Court to outlaw the LGBTQ “international public movement” as extremist, the latest crippling blow against the already beleaguered LGBTQ community in the increasingly conservative country.
The ministry said in an online statement announcing the lawsuit that authorities have identified “signs and manifestations of extremist nature” in “the activities of the LGBT movement active” in Russia, including “incitement of social and religious discord.” Russia’s Supreme Court has scheduled a hearing to consider the lawsuit for Nov. 30, the ministry said.
It wasn’t immediately clear what exactly the label would entail for LGBTQ people in Russia if the Supreme Court sides with the Justice Ministry. But the move in itself represents the latest, and by far the most drastic, step in the decadelong crackdown on gay rights in Russia unleashed under President Vladimir Putin, who has put “traditional family values” at the cornerstone of his rule.
The crackdown, which began a decade ago, slowly but surely chipped away at LGBTQ rights. In 2013, the Kremlin adopted the first legislation restricting LGBTQ rights, known as the “gay propaganda” law, banning any noncritical public depiction of “nontraditional sexual relations” among minors. In 2020, Putin pushed through a constitutional reform to extend his rule by two more terms that also outlawed same-sex marriage.
In 2022, after sending troops into Ukraine, the Kremlin ramped up its rhetoric about protecting “traditional values” from what it called the West’s “degrading” influence, in what rights advocates saw as an attempt to legitimize the military action in Ukraine. That same year, the authorities adopted a law banning propaganda of “nontraditional sexual relations” among adults, too, effectively outlawing any public endorsement of LGBTQ people.
Another law passed this year prohibited gender transitioning procedures and gender-affirming care for trans people. The legislation prohibited any “medical interventions aimed at changing the sex of a person,” as well as changing one’s gender in official documents and public records. It also amended Russia’s Family Code by listing gender change as a reason to annul a marriage and adding those “who had changed gender” to a list of people who can’t become foster or adoptive parents.
“Do we really want to have here, in our country, in Russia, ‘Parent No. 1, No. 2, No. 3’ instead of ‘mom’ and ‘dad?’” Putin said in September 2022 at a ceremony to formalize Moscow’s annexation of four Ukrainian regions. “Do we really want perversions that lead to degradation and extinction to be imposed in our schools from the primary grades?”
Throughout its history, many forms of gender expression have been celebrated – from the acknowledgment of a third gender to men wearing makeup to distinguish their noble and higher status in contrast with cultures like the Greeks, who were seen as less civilized.
Many have tried to argue for the rights of trans people by pointing out the more accepting attitudes of ancient Iranian civilization, an attitude that is at odds with the modern interpretation of masculinity and femininity.
And a shift did begin to take place in the 1960s thanks to one brave activist.
The mother of a movement
In the 1960s, Iran was experiencing a great shift in its attitude towards homosexuality. While conservatives condemned it, there were many gay bars and other places for young gay people to be themselves. The secret 1978 marriage of Bijan Saffari (the son of a high-ranking senator) is one example of the passive presence of homosexuality in the country.
Maryam Khatoon Molkara was born in Anzali, a deeply religious province, and grew up alongside these cultural shifts in Iran. Initially thinking she was gay, Maryam used her family’s connections with the Pahlavi family (the ruling dynasty at the time) and asked Iranian Queen Farah Diba for guidance.
The queen suggested Maryam find others like herself and create a community that could ask for protection from the state. Farah, a progressive woman unlike her husband, showed love and sympathy for gay people and was among the few members of the royal family who had good relations with them.
In 1975, Maryam traveled to London and had an eye-opening experience about trans identities. It was there she realized she wasn’t simply homosexual.
Maryam was a religious woman and began writing letters seeking religious advice from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who was in exile in Iraq, regarding her experience of being assigned the wrong gender at birth. She mentioned her gender identity had been apparent since she was just two years old, as she used to imitate applying makeup with chalk on her face. Khomeini suggested that she live as a woman, which included dressing accordingly.
She even went as far as seeking his guidance in person when he was in Paris, but she was unable to meet with him. However, these attempts at meeting Khomeini and connecting with what became the ruling clergy saved her life.
Following the 1979 revolution and the annihilation of the leftists and liberals by the religious right, Maryam faced severe backlash due to her identity. She endured arrests, death threats, and various forms of mistreatment, including being forced to wear masculine clothing and being injected with male hormones against her will. She was ultimately forced to stay in a psychiatric institution, but thanks to her connections with religious leaders, however, she managed to secure her release. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the renowned reformist who would ultimately become president of Iran, was instrumental in helping her.
During the Iran-Iraq War, Maryam volunteered as a nurse on the front lines, and her compassionate care often led the men she treated to assume she was a woman.
Throughout this period, Maryam persisted in advocating for her right to undergo gender-affirming surgery. In 1985, she confronted Khomeini directly at his home in North Tehran, dressed in a man’s suit and carrying the Koran while seeking refuge. Security guards initially restrained and beat her until Khomeini’s brother intervened. She eventually pleaded her case before Khomeini, explaining her identity and the need for sex reassignment surgery to fulfill her religious duties.
After hearing her story and consulting with doctors, Khomeini issued a fatwa (ruling) affirming that sex reassignment surgery was not against Islamic law. Maryam then worked to implement the necessary medical procedures in Iran and assisted other transgender individuals in accessing surgeries.
In 1997, she underwent her own gender-affirming surgery in Thailand, as she was dissatisfied with the procedures available in her home country. The Iranian government supported her surgery and subsequently established government funding for surgeries for other transgender individuals.
In 2007, Maryam founded and ran the Iranian Society to Support Individuals with Gender Identity Disorder (ISIGID), the first state-approved organization advocating for transgender rights in Iran. Prior to that, she had used her own property to offer support, legal advice, and medical care to fellow transgender people, including post-op care. Despite knowing the potential risks, she continued to fight for the rights of other transgender individuals, even helping secure their release from prison.
Maryam died in 2012 in Anzali, where she was born, but her efforts transformed Iran into one of the more accepting countries for transgender people in the Middle East.
Modern Iran is not known for its love of LGBTQ+ people. With the recent attackson gay people from President Raisi, as well as the execution of a few LGBTQ+ activists, there is no denying that LGBTQ+ people are having a hard time under the Islamic Republic’s reign.
But unlike gay people, whose acts might lead them to death, transgender folks are treated as sick people who need gender reassignment surgery to live according to their true gender, just like Maryam Khatoon Molkara.
This has put Iran in an odd situation where according to the law, trans people are far more accepted than gay people. In practice, though, trans people still receive a lot of hate and discrimination. That being said, no one can go as far as publicly challenging the fact that gender reassignment is a bad thing because then they would challenge Khomeini’s words, something that could have dire consequences.
Since the late 2010s, the American culture war has found its way into Iran through the sharing of videos of Donald Trump and right-wing figures like Jordan Peterson. These anti-LGBTQ+ leaders have been attractive to Iranian youth due to their anti-Islamic and anti-Islamic Republic sentiments that seem to align well with their aim of toppling the regime.
Inevitably, the American right wing’s unique form of bigotry also found its way to Iran. Josephine Baird, a British-Swedish scholar, told LGBTQ Nation that American and European reactionaries used Iran’s acceptance of trans people for many years as evidence of their conspiratorial ideas that accepting trans people would lead to the erasure of gay people – or some sort of tyranny.
“The modern rampant transphobia has no real connection to Iran or our culture,” Becca Sanaei Kia, an Iranian scholar in the US, also told LGBTQ Nation.
There are two clashing ideas over the existence of trans people in Iran. One is the old-school religious view that trans people are sick and must be cured. The second is the Western-style secular transphobia that sees any bit of acceptance as threatening. While Khomeini and his creed were convinced of their beliefs due to religious texts and arguments, the modern transphobes rely on a distorted sense of “science” and “biology.”
LGBTQ Nation spoke with several trans people in Iran, and it’s clear that to many, the old view is more comforting because it didn’t give them a lot of visibility even if they still felt abnormal, sick, and sinful for being trans. However, some folks were more positive with regard to the new waves. They mentioned that while modern transphobia can be even more cruel and inhumane, the visibility has given rise to many who stand for LGBTQ+ rights and want to advocate for the rights of trans people.
In other words, those standing up to hate give them hope.
Russian prosecutors have requested a sentence of eight years in a penal colony for a lesbian artist who criticized the country’s military actions in Ukraine in a supermarket protest last year, according to the Russian language Mediazona.
Alexandra Skochilenko, 33, has been charged with spreading knowingly false information about the use of the armed forces and the government’s use of its authority, a crime punishable by up to 10 years in a penal colony.
On March 31, 2022, Skochilenko, also known as Sasha, switched out the price tags at a Perekrestok supermarket with stickers that looked like price tags but contained a series of anti-war messages.
In a series of five tags available on a Save Sasha website, Skochilenko accused the armed forces of committing genocide, called Putin a liar, and described Russia as a fascist state.
“My great-grandfather did not take part in the Great Patriotic War (World War Two) for four years in order for Russia to become a fascist state and attack Ukraine,” read one of the stickers.
Another sticker asked why state media was not covering the civilian death toll in Ukraine.
A witness alerted authorities and Skochilenko was arrested on April 11, 2022. She has been held in custody since her arrest despite suffering from bipolar disorder and other serious physical conditions.
Skochilenko has been specifically charged by prosecutors with knowingly spreading false information because of alleged political and ideological hatred. Prosecutors presented expert witnesses who declared there was no fascism in Russia and that the government was truthful and just in its statements and actions regarding the armed forces and Ukraine.
“Skochilenko compares the Russian Federation with a fascist state, they [prosecution expert witnesses] explained that in the Russian Federation now there are no elements of a fascist state,” prosecutor Alexander Gladyshev declared in court. “The words that Russia attacked Ukraine are false; the purpose of the SVO [special military operation] was to protect the citizens of Donbas from aggression.”
For her part, Skochilenko disputed that she was motivated but hatred or political ideology.
“I just wanted to stop the war – that was my motivation. Not hatred, but compassion,” she told the court on November 3, according to the Russian language Mediazona. “I am sure that every person in this room does not want there to be a war. Even you, your honor, even you, the state prosecutor. You also don’t want people to die prematurely, for young soldiers to lie in the fields, for civilians to die. You, like any person, want peace, prosperity, love.”
The court also heard that in addition to suffering from bipolar disorder, Skochilenko also has a cyst in the right ovary, heart disease, PTSD, and celiac disease.
Jesús Ociel Baena was found dead next to their partner in their home in the central Mexican city of Aguascalientes on Monday, according to state prosecutors. Baena, the first openly nonbinary person to assume a judicial post in Mexico, was one of the most visible LGBTQ figures in a country where the community is often violently targeted.
Baena and their partner had already received death threats and hateful messages and had protection from state security, prompting many across the country Monday to call their death a hate crime.
Authorities have provided minimal details about the slaying and local prosecutors hinted it may have been a murder-suicide.
“It may seem like a not very credible hypothesis to many, but we’re being very careful to leave a record and preserve all evidence,” said state prosecutor Jesús Figueroa Ortega.
Federal authorities, however, urged caution in the investigation Tuesday. Félix Arturo Medina, an official with Mexico’s Interior Ministry, said “it’s important to not throw out any line of investigation,” adding that they hoped to coordinate with state authorities to investigate the deaths.
“It’s a relevant case for us, not just because of the activism the magistrate was carrying out,” but also because the government wants all crimes to be investigated, Medina said.
Impunity runs rampant in Mexico. Only 1% of all crimes committed were reported, investigated and resolved in 2022, according to a survey by National Institute of Statistics and Geography.
The state authorities’ hypothesis was quickly rejected by many in Mexico’s LGBTQ community.
Alejandro Brito, director of the LGBTQ rights group Letra S urged authorities to continue to investigate the incident and to take into consideration the context of the case, and threats of violence against Baena.
Brito called state prosecutor’s version of events “loaded with prejudices” and said quick conclusions made by local authorities have only deepened distrust of authorities among historically victimized communities.
“In these types of homicides they always try to disqualify or belittle,” Brito said. “These statements that the prosecutor is giving, what they’re doing isn’t clarifying the acts, they’re adding fuel to the fire of these prejudices.”
People who knew Baena said the magistrate and Herrera in recent weeks were chipper and talked passionately about future activism.
Brito was echoed by thousands who gathered in the heart of Mexico City lighting candles over photos of Baena and other victims of anti-LGBTQ violence Monday night. They shouted “Justice” and “We won’t stay silent” and demanded a thorough investigation into the deaths.
“Ociel is, and was, the most relevant figure in today’s fight for human rights for the LGBTQ+ community,” said Humberto Dena, a 24-year-old carrying a candle alongside thousands of others in the march. “We want [the authorities] to continue to investigate this case, and not just say it was a ‘crime of passion.’”
In becoming a magistrate in October 2022, Baena was thought to be the first nonbinary person in Latin America to assume a judicial position. Baena broke through another barrier this May as one of a group of people to be issued Mexico’s first passports listing the holders as nonbinary.
Baena appeared in regularly published photos and videos wearing skirts and heels and toting a rainbow fan in court offices and advocated on social media platforms, drawing hundreds of thousands of followers.
“I am a nonbinary person. I am not interested in being seen as either a woman or a man. This is an identity. It is mine, for me, and nobody else. Baena posted on X, formerly Twitter, in June. “Accept it.”
Last month, the electoral court presented Baena with a certificate recognizing the magistrate with the gender neutral noun “maestre,” a significant step in Spanish, a language that splits most of its words between two genders, masculine or feminine.
While Mexico has made significant steps in reducing anti-LGBTQ violence, Brito’s Letra S documented a jump in violence against sexual minorities in 2019. In that year alone, at least 117 lesbian, gay and bisexual and transgender people were slain. Many were grisly killings, including brutal stabbings and public slayings.
The National Observatory of Hate Crimes Against LGBTI+ Persons in Mexico registered 305 violent hate crimes against sexual minorities in 2019-2022, including murder, disappearances and more.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can also call the network, previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.
In 2008, Dan Leveille, 35, was studying computer science at the Rochester Institute of Technology when California voters passed Proposition 8, eliminating the right of same-sex couples to marry in the state. It was a sucker punch to the queer community, including Leveille, who found himself wanting to bring order to how he thought about LGBTQ+ rights in the US.
His solution was Equaldex, a passion project that visualizes the state of queer rights not only at home but around the world. The site has become a trusted resource for governments, the media, and LGBTQ+ travelers everywhere.
LGBTQ Nation spoke with Leveille about Equaldex from his home in Los Angeles.
Get the Daily Brief
The news you care about, reported on by the people who care about you:
LGBTQ Nation: What inspired you to come up with an LGBTQ+ rights visualization tool?
Dan Leveille: When the Prop 8 stuff happened, I got pretty interested in it. And then there were a lot of states that were legalizing same-sex marriage, and a lot of laws were changing. And I remember at some point I was like, “Wait, did that state legalize it? When did that happen?” And I’m like, “Wow, I wish there was like some sort of site that showed all of these changes, like, a map.”
I launched it in 2014.
LGBTQ Nation: How did you envision it being used by others as you were building it?
DL: I first imagined it for my own use just tracking all the changes. But the number of countries that criminalize being gay, the number of countries that, you know, jailed people or even have the death penalty, that stuff is really compelling. And maybe the LGBTQ activists know this, but the general public might not. And I think bringing to light those facts is very important. This could kind of put pressure and visibility on the parts of the world that aren’t progressing.
LGBTQ Nation: What are some of the unexpected ways that Equaldex has been used since you put it up?
DL: One thing that is very obvious, probably, but just didn’t occur to me is how it’s used as a travel guide. That wasn’t immediately obvious to me, but it makes perfect sense. There’s been a lot of interest from travel agencies so that travelers will know, “Oh, this country you’re visiting, these laws, you might want to be careful or reconsider.”
General Electric, they use Equaldex data for some of their internal systems for traveling for employees. It makes sense because companies want to be careful about where they’re sending their employees, especially if there are laws against being gay.
LGBTQ Nation: Does General Electric throw you some bucks for using Equaldex?
DL: No, it’s generally not really a big deal to me. If a company wants to apply this data, I don’t have any issue with it. I like keeping the service free, just in principle.
LGBTQ Nation: GE could make a donation for your trouble.
DL: Yeah, for sure.
LGBTQ Nation: What’s the most LGBTQ+-friendly country on the planet?
DL: Currently I have this system on the site called the Equality Index, which ranks legal rights and public opinion. It’s a newer metric that I added. The countries with the highest ranking right now are Iceland, as number one, and Denmark and Norway. Malta, the Netherlands and Canada are up there.
LGBTQ Nation: And what’s the country you identify as the most hostile to LGBTQ+ identity?
DL: If you’re looking at the Equality Index, the Middle East and Africa are generally the worst in terms of both the laws and the public opinion there.
LGBTQ Nation: You’re looking at the data pretty much every day. What are some of the trends that you can point out?
DL: That’s a good question. Outside of the Middle East and Africa, there’s definitely a lot of progress being made overall. I focus a lot on the US, and polling has shown overwhelmingly that, you know, things are moving positively in terms of the public opinion. Even Republicans and religious groups, they’re moving to being more open.
LGBTQ Nation: In the US, do you see the wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in red states as an anomaly, or is there anything in the data that indicates maybe those right-wing Republicans are on to something?
DL: Some of the US polls have shown that while it is becoming more accepted, it also is starting to polarize the more people are being exposed to it. So they have a lot of opinions on it. You know, you see things like drag queen bans and all those book bans and stuff, so people might form an opinion, whereas before, maybe they didn’t have an opinion. It’s interesting. We’re seeing a lot of progress in the US, but there are definitely some laws that are going backward. Hopefully it doesn’t continue that way.
LGBTQ Nation: The site would be a big undertaking for anyone, let alone somebody who’s just doing it as a passion project. Did you ever think, “I’m way over my head on this?”
DL: Yeah, definitely. Especially with big publications and even some governments and organizations that reference Equaldex. So when I see, like, the UN referencing it in one of their reports, I’m like, God, it’s a lot of pressure. Fortunately, I built Equaldex in a way where I don’t need to change everything myself, with such a big community of users who are contributing.
LGBTQ Nation: Tell us about those volunteers.
DL: When I first started Equaldex, there were a lot of people who were very interested in the project, and I got a handful of people who were just super passionate about it. They were super crucial in the first six months to a year of the site. Like, we had all these countries with no data, and people were just going in, adding all the laws. We’ve added a Discord community, as well, that has been really great at attracting editors and moderators.
LGBTQ Nation: Who pays for all of this?
DL: I pay for it myself. It’s not super expensive to run. And I share the cost with a pretty successful gaming app I run called Dododex, which is a companion app for the game ARK. And that helps to pay for software and Chat GPT to help program and stuff.
LGBTQ Nation: What’s the participation rate in some of those red countries for people who help out with the site?
DL: It’s very low. It’s challenging, especially when there are language barriers, too. But in really red countries, those users probably don’t want to publicly join a service like Equaldex, for reasons you can imagine. Fortunately, there are a lot of international organizations, research organizations who dig into the laws and maybe expose some of the things that are happening there, and we do have a handful of contributors who are from countries more familiar with those places.
LGBTQ Nation: Who are some of your go-to’s for the information you’re putting up?
DL: When we’re sourcing laws we try to get to the actual government site that shows what the law is. Unfortunately, sometimes what the government is saying is different than what they’re actually doing. We reference some big LGBT organizations like ILGA. The UN has some great resources exposing things in these homophobic countries. And of course, you know, reputable sources, the BBC, CNN, sites like yours who are reporting.
In terms of like, public opinion, there are a lot of really great organizations like Gallup that are always our go-to’s in terms of public opinion data.
LGBTQ Nation: What’s new on the site?
DL: I am working on a new feature that will — I hate to call it, like, a Yelp for LGBTQ rights, but it’s kind of that same idea where you’ll be able to share your opinion of the state or the province or the country that you lived in and share how comfortable you were about being open in public. What are politicians like? Are there out celebrities? Things like that. If you’ve lived there you have more experience, and it helps people who are traveling, so they can be like, “Okay, definitely don’t hold hands with my partner in public.” And even like, hotel reservations. In some countries you shouldn’t reserve a single bed with your partner in the same room. Stuff like that is good to know, and you might not think of it.
LGBTQ Nation: What’s been the most satisfying part of Equaldex for you so far?
DL: I think seeing the big publications and organizations use the site. There are a bunch of Ivy League schools that reference Equaldex for their students when they’re traveling. The UN, the UK Government, the US government, they’ve all read it and reference it. It makes me really proud, like, “Wow, this is something that people are very interested in.” So it kind of validates the work I’ve been doing for many years.
At a more personal level, hearing that people use it and it’s super helpful is super validating. When people say, like, “Oh, I always use it. Make sure to check Equaldex before you travel,” it’s really rewarding to hear it’s helpful to people in that way.