Russian organic grocer VkusVill has pulled its promotional material featuring an LGBT family and replaced it with an apology less than a week after posting it.
Social media users reportedly swarmed VkusVill’s and the same-sex family’s accounts with death threats after their story ran Wednesday as part of a series spotlighting the retail chain’s regular customers. By Sunday, the advertising article’s URL contained a contrite message signed by VkusVill’s founder Andrei Krivenko and senior executives.
“We consider this publication to be our mistake, which was the result of individual employees’ unprofessionalism,” VkusVill wrote in the apology.
Lebanon’s queer communities have few safe spaces left and have been among the hardest hit by the combined impacts of the 2020 Beirut blast, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ongoing economic crisis, new Oxfam research warned today. The combination of crises has destroyed entire neighborhoods where queer people had found refuge over the last decade.
The report, “Queer Community in Crisis: Trauma, Inequality & Vulnerability,” is one of the first studies conducted in Lebanon to understand the impact of the multi-layered crises facing the LGBTQI community and their unique needs. Oxfam interviewed 101 individuals, civil society organizations and informal aid groups, an urban planner, and business owners in the areas affected by the blast. The research found 70% of those surveyed lost jobs in the past year, compared to an unemployment rate of 40% among the total workforce. Almost half said they had relied on family support and humanitarian aid to make ends meet.
The LGBTQI community in Lebanon is facing a housing crisis: 41% of LGBTQ individuals cannot pay their rent, and 58% reported that their homes were damaged in the blast. 35% were forced to relocate or change their living arrangements, 39% do not have a safe living space, and a further 11% had been forced back with their families where many said they faced abusive, unsafe or unaccepting environments. Others were forced to move to overcrowded houses where they faced physical and mental health problems from the Coronavirus.
Overall, nearly 73% of survey respondents said that their mental health has worsened to a large extent due to the three-layered crisis.
Nizar Aouad, Oxfam in Lebanon’s Gender Advisor, said the Beirut blast and the subsequent reconstruction efforts could have devastating structural and cultural repercussions for the queer community.
“The blast has been the final straw for LGBTQI people in Beirut. It destroyed whatever safe spaces were left in the city. The city’s reconstruction efforts will likely lead to gentrification, making the areas unaffordable to its current residents,” said Aouad. “Swathes of neighborhoods are set to become less accessible to queer individuals because of high rent and the destruction of already limited public spaces and venues that catered for them. We fear the loss of cultural diversity in Beirut.”
The discrimination and lack of social acceptance that queer people, especially transgender people, face in Lebanon correlate with fewer opportunities for them to make a living. Trans people who face systemic and longstanding barriers to formal education and employment are often forced to work in low-income jobs in the informal sector. Many of them are forced into sex work to make ends meet. During the pandemic, many informal businesses struggled to survive and demand for sex work services sharply decreased, making an already dire situation even worse.
One interviewee noted: “We don’t have safe spaces to exist. We are stifled from all angles. We can’t go out, we can’t work, and we can’t receive proper support.”
Queer refugees, who have been struggling for years under legal restrictions that bar them from the formal job market and limit their mobility, also found in this crisis another burden. The research shows a huge and pressing need to rebuild queer-friendly spaces and create new ones in Beirut. However the government of Lebanon has shown little interest doing so.
Oxfam calls on the government to prioritize the reconstruction of safe spaces for the queer community and offer basic assistance, including cash, shelter, and access to services, to those who are not included in current aid projects. Oxfam urges Lebanese authorities to decriminalize homosexuality and ensure all members of the community have equal rights.
“Queer people in Lebanon are systematically discriminated against and have been denied equal access to general healthcare and mental healthcare services for far too long. There must be a focus on the impact of the current crises on their mental and physical wellbeing, so that their opportunities to recover are equal to their cis-hetero counterparts,” said Aouad.
75% of survey respondents said that their mental health was negatively impacted to a large extent due to the three-layered crisis. 62% respondents reported increased exposure to violence in their current houses. 48% reported inability to access support systems. 39% reported not being able to access safe spaces. 46% reported great difficulties accessing general healthcare services.
On August 4, 2020, Lebanon was ravaged by a disastrous blast in Beirut’s port, resulting in over 200 deaths and 6500 injuries, and causing massive destruction over a 10 kilometers radius from the explosion site. The areas most severely affected by the Beirut Blast, particularly the neighborhoods of Mar Mikhael, Gemmayze, and Achrafieh, were known for their reputation as the most queer-friendly neighborhoods in Beirut.
Lebanon is facing its most precarious economic crisis since the end of the civil war in 1990. Since 2019, the Lebanese Lira has devalued by more than 85 percent and unemployment has reached a record high, leading to economic recession, high inflation, leading to, devastating social conditions.
Oxfam has been working in Lebanon since 1993. We provide humanitarian assistance to vulnerable people affected by conflict, and we promote economic development, promotion of good governance at a local and national level, and women’s rights through our work with partners. Oxfam also works with local partners to contribute to the protection and empowerment of marginalized women and men. Oxfam in Lebanon works on active citizenship and good governance, economic justice, and humanitarian programs.
To respond to the impact of the blast Oxfam is working with 11 partners to deliver emergency support including distribution of food parcels and the provision of emergency and temporary cash assistance, household rehabilitation, legal assistance and consultation, psycho-social support, and medication. The services are provided to families and individuals in the affected areas including women, girls, LGBTQI community members, people with disabilities, and migrant workers.
The first-of-its-kind report, published today (6 July) by NHS Digital, is based on data from 1,132 LGB adults who participated in the Health Survey for England between 2011–2018.
The research found that LGB adults are more likely to drink more, smoke more and have worse mental health than the straight population, with worse health outcomes as a result.
Despite LGB adults being 12 per cent less likely to be overweight or obese than straight people, a higher proportion of LGB people (7 per cent) reported “bad” or “very bad” health, compared with heterosexual adults (6 per cent).
The prevalence of limiting longstanding illness was also higher at 26 per cent compared to 22 per cent.
When asked about alcohol consumption, 32 per cent of LGB adults reported drinking levels which put them at increased or higher risk of alcohol-related harm (more than 14 units per week) compared to 24 per cent of heterosexual adults.
A similar trend was found with smoking, with more LGB adults (27 per cent) than heterosexual adults (18 per cent) saying they are current smokers. The proportion of adults who currently smoked cigarettes was highest among LGB women at 31 per cent, and lowest among heterosexual women at 16 per cent.
LGB adults also had lower average mental wellbeing scores on the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (48.9) compared with heterosexual adults (51.4), with LGB women reporting the lowest wellbeing scores (47.3).
Sixteen per cent of LGB adults said they had a mental, behavioural or neurodevelopmental disorder as a longstanding condition; the proportion of heterosexual adults reporting the same was significantly lower at 6 per cent.
LGBT+ people continue to face barriers to healthcare in NHS
The NHS Digital’s Chief Statistician Chris Roebuck said: “One of the biggest benefits to collecting and publishing health data is the ability to highlight health inequalities.
“We’re pleased to be able to publish these LGB statistics for the first time, which show important differences in health status and behaviours.”
Campaigners have long highlighted the prevailing gap in healthcare provision for the LGBT+ community, who commonly face barriers not experienced by the straight population.
Back in 2019 a leading advisor on UK public health committee warned a parliamentary committee that the NHS is “absolutely” prejudiced against LGBT+ people, saying that problems largely stem from lack of funding and reporting, improper training and ingrained prejudice.
Queer women in particular often struggle to be heard in healthcare settings, with lesbian and bisexual women’s health said to be “invisible” in the UK discourse.
Last year the LBT Women’s Health Week reported that lesbian, bi and trans women are more likely to experience inappropriate questions or curiosityfrom healthcare professionals, with 8.1 per cent of lesbians, 5.9 per cent of bisexuals, 12.1 per cent of queer cis women and 15.4 per cent of trans women reporting this happening to them in the past year.
LBT+ women are also more likely to experience difficulties accessing mental-health services, with more than half of lesbian, bisexual, queer and trans women saying they found it “not easy” or “not easy at all” to access mental healthcare in the past year.
The same year, a major NHS England report disturbingly appeared to characterise being LGBT+ as a disability, highlighting the continuing ignorance and insensitivity LGBT+ people often endure from health professionals – which in turn leads to fewer doctors’ visits and poorer health outcomes.
Wilter Gómez was 12 years old when his stepfather took him from his hometown in Gracias a Dios, Honduras, to the jungle. After walking for hours on remote trails, the man began to beat him repeatedly.
“He wanted me to disappear,” Gómez said bitterly. His stepfather threw him and left him in a ditch full of water, but the intense pain from the beatings caused Gómez to wake up, saving him from drowning. He never returned to his Gracias a Dios home.
“My only sin was being who I am, a gay person. My people are very discriminated against because we don’t speak Spanish well, and we only live off the sea and the mountains. But inside, among the Indigenous people, there is a lot of machismo. It’s like living a curse because they cut us, they beat us, that’s why I had to leave,” said Gómez, 22, speaking from a shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, in the country he now calls home.
Yet there are dangers in his adopted home. In 2020, at least 79 LGBTQ people were killed in Mexico, about 6.5 per month, according to Letra S, Sida, Cultura y Vida Cotidiana, a civil organization dedicated to the defense of LGBTQ people that has been registering cases since 1998.
The most recent report by Letra S states that in the last five years there have been 459 violent deaths of LGBTQ people, although the 2020 figures show a 32 percent decrease compared to 2019, when 117 were registered.
“What state governments did not achieve, the pandemic did. But locking ourselves in our homes and not going to recreational places is by no means an option,” said Alejandro Brito, executive director of the organization. “It is very likely that the figures will skyrocket as activities in the country are re-established.”
LGBTQ Mexicans like Gómez say they are battling multiple layers of discrimination, in many cases facing greater danger in their own Indigenous communities.
Jorge Mercado Mondragón, a sociologist and academic at the Autonomous Metropolitan University, has studied the internal migration of the LGBTQ population in Mexico and said that the moment a young Indigenous person “dares to manifest their diverse sexuality,” it begins a process of aggression, large and small, which often mark the family and culminate with the departure of young people from their hometowns.
“Forced internal displacement not only occurs due to generalized violence, natural disasters or religious conflicts, it also responds to discrimination on the basis of gender identity. There are many Indigenous people who flee their communities because of their sexual orientation,” Mercado Mondragón said.
Gómez lived on the streets of Tegucigalpa for several years until 2019, when the house he shared with some friends was broken into and one of them was killed. That was the trigger to walk out of his country and cross the borders to Mexico where, in his words, he has not had much luck. He said he’s been exploited in various jobs, he’s been drugged and abused, and fell into a deep depression. He spent several months in a psychiatric institution last year.
“When they put me in the hospital, I was dying inside. Sometimes this country is very scary,” Gómez said.
Official crime and violence figures do not differentiate victims according to characteristics such as sexual orientation and gender identity, which makes it difficult to make the problem visible. Prosecutors have not incorporated these variables into their records, and LGBTQ victims of homicidal violence are included in other categories such as robbery, assault and simple homicide, among others.
Of the 32 states of Mexico, only 14 consider hate crimes due to “sexual orientation” as an aggravating factor to the crime of qualified homicide, but the Mexican Federal Criminal Code still does not include it, nor does it mention the term “gender identity.”
“Minority within a minority”
For Marven, an Indigenous trans woman who recently unsuccessfully ran as a candidate for Mexico City’s Congress, the vulnerability of the sexually diverse community is a fundamental political issue. When she was a child, her father beat her incessantly for her gender identity and family members made fun of her.
In the case of the Indigenous, she said they’re a minority within a minority. “Inclusion is not seen. I got into politics to fight for our health,” said Marven, better known as “Lady Tacos de Canasta.” She gained great popularity in 2019 when she appeared in a Netflix documentary that showed her selling tacos from her bicycle, dressed in colorful traditional dresses and her braided headdresses.
“Mexico has to change. It is not possible that one has to get used to living with that hatred and mistreatment,” Marven said. “I have tough skin, like a crocodile, because if you don’t they’ll destroy you.”
A recent scandal illustrates the uphill fight for the rights of sexual diversity in politics. LGBTQ groups have denounced that 18 male candidates for office registered as trans women in the state of Tlaxcala to circumvent the conditions of sexual parity imposed by election laws.
Despite the crudeness of the maneuver, it’s not the first time that it has happened. In 2018, 17 men posed as trans women to meet gender quotas in Oaxaca, but the electoral authorities managed to suspend those candidacies.
Almost 27 percent of people said they have faced physical aggression in school due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. In addition, 9 percent said they have suffered some kind of abuse or sexual violence by those in their own community, including school and family.
“This data is brutal,” said César Flores Mancilla, from Conapred. “The population was asked if the environment of hostility and discrimination that comes with assuming their sexual orientation and gender identity has led to suicidal ideas, and the response was positive in 73 percent of trans men, 58 percent of trans women, 51 percent of bisexual women, 48 percent of bisexual men, 43 percent of gay men and 42 percent of lesbian women.”
In these investigations, the term “accumulation of disadvantages” is often used to describe the structural discrimination that people suffer based on their identity. An Indigenous woman may experience discrimination accessing education, health and other public services, but if they also belong to the LGBTQ community, those disadvantages increase.
“The issue of being Indigenous and being women puts us in a guardianship role all the time,” said Yadira López Velasco, a Zapotec poet and sociologist. “They have always told us that we are incomplete beings, that as Indigenous we need the tutelage of the state, that as women we need the tutelage of a man and, in that sense, we are invisible. Furthermore, it is not believed anywhere that an Indigenous woman can feel desire and love for another woman.”
López is part of the National Coordinating Committee of Indigenous Women, one of the groups fighting for the rights of Indigenous people in Mexico, where 25 million identify as Indigenous and more than 7 million speak an Indigenous language.
Several experts pointed out that there was an awareness of gender fluidity in Indigenous ancestral traditions. The patriarchal machismo and gender discrimination rooted in many Indigenous communities today — a determining factor in the physical and psychological abuse of LGBTQ people — is often seen as an inheritance from the colonization process.
“Before the conquest we had a greater permissiveness to be and to show ourselves — the Indigenous cosmogony had to do with this idea that the masculine and the feminine were intertwined, there was no distinction,” said Gloria Careaga Pérez, a scholar at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and founder of the National Observatory of Hate Crimes against LGBT people. “The conquest came to impose a religion and already delegitimized a series of things that used to be part of daily life.”
Deadly violence in Veracruz
For several years, the Mexican state of Veracruz has been considered the deadliest entity for LGBTQ people in the country. Letra S registered 27 murders in that state during 2020 and, so far in 2021, the observatory has recorded six murders and one disappearance.
The region has also been singled out for the cruelty of the attacks against people from the LGBTQ community. Alaska Contreras Ponce, a 25-year-old trans woman and beauty queen, was tortured to death in 2018. Miguel Ángel Medina, 21, was stoned in a pantheon in 2019; Jesusa Ventura Reyes, 35, was beheaded and her head was left in an ice chest in front of the city hall of Fortín de las Flores, a city in Veracruz, in 2019. Getsemaní Santos Luna, a trans woman, was shot in February.
“The authorities always say that they are crimes of passion, or that they were related to drug trafficking, but they do not investigate, they do not make expert opinions,” said Jazz Bustamante, a trans woman and political candidate in Veracruz.
Bustamante, who is part of the civil association Soy Humano, said more than 40 percent of LGBTQ people who are killed in the region end up in mass graves because the authorities only give their remains to blood relatives.
“Many are from other states such as Guerrero, Oaxaca, Tabasco, and they leave those regions because of the abuses they suffer. They do sex work, because they don’t let us study or practice professions, they have no other option,” Bustamante said. “So they cut ties with their family and we cannot bury them because no one comes to claim them.”
Sofía Sánchez García, a 25-year-old trans woman, had to leave Papantla, her Indigenous town in Veracruz due to extreme violence against the LGBTQ community and the lack of work and academic opportunities.
“I had to leave there because there is no branch of work for someone like myself. People do not understand that you were born with a name and an identity different from how you see yourself. That’s why I had to leave my studies, and now I dedicate myself to sex work,” Sánchez said with a hint of sadness.
The psychological abuse she suffered throughout her life has taken a toll, Sánchez said, because “strange thoughts enter her.”
“You have to fight depression because the mind betrays you many times,” she asserts.
A place in the world
They are overflowing silhouettes, shades of lights and characters that unfold. Pedro Miranda’s photographs are suggestive, not precise. They seem like something out of a dream. In a world obsessed with sharpness and brightness, Miranda opts for the mist, for the dreamlike universe and the textures that turn his work into an experience.
“Sometimes my friends joke with me, because they say that I am part of the minority, of the minority, of the minority,” he said with a laugh, looking up at the sky. Miranda is a blind plastic artist and an LGBTQ Indigenous person, but he says that none of that defines him.
“I think the most important thing is to know where you are in the world. The fact of being Indigenous does not detract from me. On the contrary, it adds to me because I am from a region that has survived a great number of terrible things,” said Miranda, who says he is aware that he is privileged by being part of the artistic community.
“It’s supposedly a more open world, and I understand that it is. Although they have come to accuse me of overexploiting my Indigenous image, can you believe it?” he said, laughing.
This year Miranda did the Perfect Disabled Handbook, a project of in-depth interviews with other creators who share their experiences living with various types of disabilities.
“You don’t have to look at your limitations, even if that is difficult. There are things worth dying for, worth losing privileges for, and that is knowing who you are, living by your own personality, and that includes sexual orientation,” he said. “That is why you came into the world.”
The Global South presents unique challenges for LGBTQ activists and advocacy groups.
The Human Rights Council notes 29 countries have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples, and the majority of them are located in the Global North that comprises more developed countries in the Americas and Europe. Less than a handful of these countries — such as South Africa and Brazil — are in the Global South. Countries in the Global North, as a result, are more likely to harbor LGBTQ-friendly public sentiments compared to the Global South, which is rife with restrictive anti-LGBTQ laws.
This reality not only makes life tumultuous for both openly and closeted queer individuals in the Global South, the chances of encountering LGBTQ-friendly sentiments in these regions are also close to non-existent. Ensuring the fundamental human rights of the queer people who live in these regions are guaranteed is imperative for activists.
The Washington Blade recently spoke with activists from Thailand and Lebanon about their advocacy work and also how they celebrated Pride in countries where LGBTQ identity is not widely acknowledged.
Midnight Poonkasetwattana is the executive director of the Asian Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM), a non-profit organization located in Bangkok. The organization’s work centers on addressing sexual health-related issues by collecting data on gay men and men who have sex with men in 35 countries across Asia and the Pacific.
“What we do in general is empowering communities on the ground to be able to speak their truth, and also participate meaningfully in country, regional, and global fora so they can have their voices and actually articulate what is it the needs of communities on the ground are,” says Poonkasetwattana.
APCOM, by giving these communities the ability to articulate their concerns, creates and facilitates an environment where LGBTQ people’s sexual and mental health needs are met, even though discrimination remains a barrier to accessing these services.
APCOM’s work does not come without its challenges because of the prevalence of anti-LGBTQ laws in many Asian countries. Their work, however, usually continues undeterred because of their ability to work with local community organizations in the public health sector.
“There are some opportunities to work under public health, and we’ve been able to do that in certain places [like Afghanistan] where it’s still difficult to talk about equality,” says Poonkasetwattana. “When we talk about ensuring that those who are marginalized and most at risk to [contract] HIV are able to get prevention and treatment, [we focus on working] with community-based organizations.”
APCOM, as a result, has been able to facilitate important conversations around HIV/AIDS, with the specific information about the use of necessary and appropriate language in web programming that recognizes people’s different sexual identities and encourages direct conversations around drug use and sex work.
APCOM, in order to commemorate Asia’s LGBTQ community’s tenacity, began Pride month with a virtual discussion that the Australian Embassy in Thailand sponsored. The event, titled “Celebrating Pride Month 2021: LGBTQI Inclusion and the Effect of COVID-19,” had two sessions.
The first session, “Voices from Thai LGBTQI: Launch of Khormoon Report,” discussed COVID-19’s impact in Thailand. The second, “COVID-19 Recovery and LGBTQI Inclusion: A Perspective from the Business Sector,” focused on how Thailand’s business sector practiced inclusion and how it will further propel LGBTQ advocacy.
As APCOM prepares to ease back into normalcy as the pandemic wanes, Poonkasetwattana will begin to prepare for the organization’s HERO Awards (HIV, Equality and Rights), a fundraising gala that honors outstanding LGBTQ activists, HIV/AIDS service providers and allies from across Asia and the Pacific and also raises money for the HIV prevention and human rights work of APCOM.
Helem, whose executive director is Tarek Zeidan, is an LGBTQ advocacy organization in Beirut, Lebanon. Founded in 2001, this non-governmental entity works to improve the legal and social status of LGTBQ people in the Middle East and North Africa.
Lebanon is what Zeidan describes as a slightly safer place for queer people. Lebanon, compared to Egypt and Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East, has emerged as a more inclusive and liberal place despite it being anything but a safe haven for queer people.
“When it comes to LGBTQ rights, Lebanon packs a punch way above its weight,” says Zeidan. “Because, in a region which is notorious for LGBTQ rights violations, Lebanon has enjoyed, and here I use the word enjoy very loosely, a relatively safer and more inclusive sort of experience.”
Helem in its many incarnations throughout its 21-year history has always had one main goal: React to whatever priorities and needs that queer people in the Middle East have.
Helem is structurally divided into three parts.
The first is the services department which does a lot of work to protect and assist LGBTQ people in crisis.
“We [offer] emergency intervention, case management, emergency cash, free mental health support, free medical aid, everything,” says Zeidan. “Food security [also] acts primarily as the hub in which we gather a lot of data, particularly data on the locale, density, and type of human rights violations, as well as demographic information.”
The second part of the organization is its community department.
Helem runs the largest non-commercial queer space in the Arab world that serves as a community center. This space is where the Zeidan guides localization work, community building, power building work, capacity building and vocational training.
“That’s where we do our family support, youth outreach, and all of that sort of community building and integration time work,” says Zeidan.
The final leg is the advocacy part or “bureau” that anchors on policy work, procedure, cultural change, public awareness, and legislation. Helem’s advocacy work also focuses on criminalization that Zeidan describes as “getting more attention,” even though it is not a central focus.
“In addition, criminalization, which is something we always do gets a lot of attention, but it’s really not the central thing that we engage with,” says Zeidan. “There are multiple ways in which you can guarantee LGBTQ rights and inclusion that don’t necessarily pass through Parliament, or the Supreme Court, especially when those two are blocked. So in a nutshell, the central question that we ask is, what can we do in order to improve institutions to become LGBTQ inclusive? How do we improve the lives of LGBTQ people?”
Zeidan further mentions that this strategy makes way for avenues that are not necessarily within the traditional human rights view by extracting opportunities from both development and human rights frameworks.
When tackling the lack of employment within Arab LGBTQ communities, for example, Helem doesn’t approach corporations that are more likely to be LGBTQ-inclusive. It instead identifies the industries that target LGBTQ people.
“We are more interested in targeting small and medium enterprises as locales for employment rather than big banks, because that’s where most of the working class and low income queer people are, and that’s where they get most of their livelihoods,” says Zeidan.
Zeidan says he anticipates even more engagement with LGBTQ activism in the Middle East in the future.
“We’re really excited about deciphering the question: What does regional activism really look like in the Middle East,” says Zeidan. “This is a very complicated question.”
He further mentions this goal is complicated because the Middle East does not have a regional organization to which they can turn for advocacy. Africa, for example, has the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, but the Middle East does not have such a body.
Helem’s modus operandi will therefore be engorged in trying to make sense of how to best liberate queer Arabs.
Chloe Lula, a Berlin-based writer and audio producer, writes for PinkNews and openDemocracy about the unique challenges trans folk face in ultra-conservative Georgia.
Bart Nikolo, a transgender man living in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, spends his winter nights gathering kindling for the sex workers who wait for clients near Heroes’ Square.
t’s something he’s done for years. After driving around for hours picking up fallen branches, he stacks them in neat piles, creating small fires that radiate a feeble heat.
When police officers try to fine him for “littering”, he explains what he says should be obvious: that he’s only trying to help ensure that these women, many of whom are also transgender, do not die from the cold.
In the absence of government support for queer people, Nikolo feels that the burden of care has fallen on the LGBT+ community’s shoulders.
Georgia’s hostility towards LGBT+ rights, Nikolo told me, stems from the contradictions between the two pillars of Georgian national identity, the Church and the State.
When the United National Movement (UNM) party rose to power following the ‘Rose Revolution’ in 2003, it promised to overturn the stagnant Soviet political economy and culture by introducing widespread neoliberal reforms, government-led modernisation projects and closer ties to NATO and the EU.
But UNM’s desired shift towards a Western-aligned national identity was at odds with Orthodox traditionalism.
UNM’s rise to power led to a period of polarisation – along with a rise in poverty and inequality that has left the country’s most socioeconomically marginalised people, including queer people, at greater risk of exploitation and discrimination.
While homophobic stigma has inhibited above-ground queer organising, more widespread internet access has enabled inclusive values to take hold in underground communities.
The internet is a major meeting point for Tbilisi’s queer people in the absence of physical safe spaces
“It was only with the advent of the internet that new identity categories became available,” wrote Georgian feminist studies scholar Anna Rekhviashvili.
This new form of connection helped mobilise clandestine gay networks, she explains, which eventually emerged in a small number of visible sanctuaries – such as Success – in the 2010s.
The internet continues to be a major meeting point for Tbilisi’s queer people in the absence of physical safe spaces and LGBT-affirming resources.
Homophobia vs solidarity
In May 2013, a small rally in central Tbilisi to mark International Day Against Homophobia was ambushed by thousands of angry protesters. Many of them, including Georgian Orthodox priests, violently attacked the gay rights demonstrators.
Russian millionaire and ultra-nationalist Levan Vasadze was a prominent participant in the 2013 ambush. Last month, he announced his plans to enter politics with a new movement Unity, Essence, Hope – abbreviated in Georgian as ERI, meaning “nation”.
Recently, Vasadze talked of destabilisation if Tbilisi Pride takes place in early July. “We give the government time,” he said, “to cancel the events, otherwise people will react to the government’s decision” and “will not allow the ‘anti-Christian and anti-Georgian’ activities.”
Vasadze “is doing nothing to discourage extremist and nationalist bigoted views, and that’s disturbing,” said Ian Kelly, the US ambassador to Georgia 2015–18.
“His power comes from uniting the opposition and creating a situation that’s very much ‘us-vs-them’.”
Such developments are alarming, but they highlight the importance of solidarity – and improved connections – within the queer community. Giorgi Kikonishvili, a gay rights activist in Tbilisi, was among those attacked in 2013 and remembers it as a turning point for the Georgian LGBT+ movement.
“But,” he said, “we need to start working together very fiercely.”
“I have never had official employment,” Aisha (not her real name), a Malaysian trans woman who does sex work, told Human Rights Watch and Justice for Sisters in 2019. “I tried. I applied for a job selling perfume, but the employer said they would only accept me if my gender was female on my [identity card].”
The gender marker on Malaysian identity cards matter. A 2019 study by SUHAKAM, Malaysia’s human rights commission, found that 57 percent of trans women interviewed in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor had experienced discrimination, including being denied employment, education, housing, or health care because their appearance did not match the gender on their identity card. This discrimination pushes many trans people like Aisha to society’s margins.
International human rights standards provide clear guidance on addressing this problem through legal gender recognition, a process allowing people to change their legal documentation to match their gender identity. A legal gender recognition policy could allow anyone to change the gender marker on their identity documents from female to male or vice versa, or to a third gender option, as a number of Malaysia’s neighbors provide for, including Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan. Some countries have no gender markers on public-facing identity documents, while others are moving to remove them. In many interactions that require an identification document, such as renting an apartment, voting, or bank transactions, a person’s gender is irrelevant.
To advance its human rights mandate, SUHAKAM recently advertised for a researcher to study possible approaches to legal gender recognition in Malaysia. The posting attracted opposition, including from the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), a member of the ruling coalition, and the Department of Islamic Development (JAKIM), which promotes enforcement of state laws punishing trans Muslims with prison time and mandatory “counseling” for not dressing in accordance with the gender designation on their identity card. In opposing the research, they claim that allowing changes of gender markers on official documents would promote same-sex relations, violate Islamic precepts, and “desecrate human rights.”
Malaysian civil society organizations quickly debunked JAKIM’s claims by demonstrating that legal gender recognition is a rights imperative. SUHAKAM should remain steadfast in its commitment to finding solutions for people like Aisha who would benefit greatly from being able to change the gender marker on their identity documents.
Lawyers, politicians, academics and activists have banded together to tell Boris Johnson exactly how to legislate for a ban on conversion therapy after his claim it is “technically complex”.
In March this year, following the resignation of three members of the government’s own LGBT+ advisory board, Johnson promised to “stamp out” conversion therapy, but claimed that a ban would be “technically complex to deal with”.
Four monthson, there has been no progress aside from the announcement of a consultation which will take place before a ban is introduced, with no timeline, aiming to “protect the medical profession, defend freedom of speech, and uphold religious freedom”.
o help Johnson with his “technically complex” task – one which has managed with relative ease by many other countries around the world – a group of lawyers, academics, parliamentarians and campaigns have come together.
The Ban Conversion Therapy Legal Forum, convened by campaigner Jayne Ozanne and chaired by barrister and House of Lords member Baroness Helena Kennedy, “brings together some of the most senior legal minds in the UK”.
Its many members include Robin Allen QC, Stonewall CEO Nancy Kelley, Mermaids legal and policy advisor Lui Asquith, legal academics from the universities of Liverpool, Leeds, Kent, Nottingham Trent and Manchester, and the LGBT Caucus leaders for Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems.
Conservative MP and new “special envoy” on LGBT+ rights Lord Herbert, who was appointed by Johnson in May, is also “working closely” with the group of experts.
The forum, which held its inaugural meeting on Monday (28 June), has already released a statement advising Johnson on how best to ban conversion therapy.
It explained that the “best way of banning conversion therapy is by using a combination of both civil and criminal remedies”, and added: “Legislation banning conversion therapy must be human rights compliant. The rights of victims and potential victims of conversion therapy must be prioritised.
“The way in which conversion therapy denies human dignity and demeans its victims amounts to degrading and inhuman treatment. And by denying their identity, it also destroys their private life. By definition, conversion therapy is discriminatory.”
The Ban Conversion Therapy Legal Forum acknowledged that a ban “may fall within the scope of other human rights, most notably freedom of religion and belief, as well as freedom of expression”.
But, it explained: “The harm caused to LGBT+ people by conversion therapy will justify restrictions on those rights, but the Forum is clear that the interferences with those rights should go no further than end the harm done to LGBT+ people by conversion therapy.”
The forum offered to “work with the Government to ensure that the ban on conversion therapy works in a variety of settings, and that no one is excluded from its protection”.
Baroness Kennedy, the forum’s chair, added in a statement: “It is critically important that there is legislation to ban conversion therapy and that it provides full protection to all LGBT+ people in accordance with human rights principles.
“That is why I am pleased to join a broad group of people with expertise who can assist the government and ensure there are no loopholes which can be used to continue this deeply harmful practice.”
“This campaign is a precedent for Russia’s social advertising industry. It’s the first-ever project created by an LGBT+ organisation and a marketing agency,” said Alla Chikinda of the Yekaterinburg Resource Centre for LGBT people.
“The video has been produced by one of the country’s most successful ad agencies and it features a popular song, so it’s a big step towards recognising the importance of LGBT-oriented agenda.”
The poignant film follows two men, played by Nikita Orlov and Maxim Avdeev, as they navigate the pushes and pulls of love’s usual trials – made all the more difficult due to fear hostility outside the walls of their distant apartments in Moscow.
Expertly and sensitively performed, directed, styled and edited, the six-minute film uses split-screen imagery to show the dancers seemingly collide and interact, painting the ups and downs of their passionate relationship.
“These are two people that love each other and want to be together, but forbid themselves because of societal judgment, because of certain walls that are created around that relationship, and so unfortunately it cannot happen,” explains writer Evgeny Primachenko.
Beautiful film was inspired by Russia’s homophobic campaign ads
Primachenko was prompted to create the film in response to the homophobic campaign that drove last year’s constitutional reforms, a package of changes which included an amendment defining marriage as “a union between a man and a woman”.
A flood of state-endorsed anti-gay ads presented “the [LGBT+] community in an incredibly clichéd, offensive way – in an extremely negative light,” Primachenko remembers.
One manipulative video showed a gay couple adopting a child, with a flamboyantly camp “mother” trying to dress the cowering orphan in a glittery dress. “This is what will happen if you don’t vote for the constitution change,” the advert threatens.
Spain has advanced a landmark bill that would allow trans adults to self-determine their gender – but activists say it doesn’t go far enough.
The Spanish government approved the draft bill on Tuesday (29 June). It would allow trans people over the age of 16 to update their gender marker and name on official documents without being forced to get a medical diagnosis.
Currently, trans people in Spain must have a gender dysphoria diagnosis or have been prescribed hormone therapy before they can legally change their name and gender on official documents.
Under the draft bill’s provisions, individuals aged between 14 and 16 would need parental approval to correct their gender marker or name. Those aged between 12 and 14 would need judicial authorisation.
Minors aged under 12 would only be allowed to register a new name, and would need to wait until they are older to update their gender marker.
Equality minister Irene Montero told reporters at a news conference that Spain was “making history” by passing the draft bill. She said the legislation represented a “giant step forward for LGBTI rights and particularly those of trans people” in the country.
She said: “I think we’re not just launching a clear message when it comes to the protection and defence of everyone … but also to Europe as a whole, which is that human rights and guaranteeing the freedom, dignity and happiness of everyone – whoever they are and whoever they love – are the foundations of the European project.”
The Associated Press reported that the bill would also ban gay and trans conversion therapy, bring forward fines and punishment for anti-LGBT+ attacks and overturn a ban that prevented lesbian couples from registering their children under both parents’ names.
Spain’s self-ID bill ‘is a brutal trim’
Mar Cambrollé, from the non-profit organisation Plataforma Trans, told the Associated Press that the bill falls flat in terms of protecting the rights of trans minors under 14 and guaranteeing the rights of non-binary and trans migrants.
“It’s a brutal trim from of what we had demanded for decades,” Cambrollé said.
Spain rejected a more expansive LGBT+ rights bill on 18 May, with the country’s Congress of Deputies voting 143-78.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that this version of the bill would have “upheld children’s self-determination by allowing children and adolescents access to legal gender recognition”. HRW said the bill would have also allowed for non-binary and blank gender markers on official identity documents.
LGBT+ activists have put pressure on the government for months to pass expensive self-ID laws.
Earlier this year, dozens of trans rights campaigners launched a hunger strike to push for better trans rights legislation. Hundreds of people gathered with trans flags at the Congress of Deputies in Madrid, Spain in March, and 70 activists announced their intention to go on hunger strike.
The campaigners changed “trans law now” outside the political building and tweeted pictures from the frontlines. The group promised to continue until the Socialist and Podemos coalition introduced an inclusive LGBT+ rights bill.