*Michael Lavers originally published this piece on The Washington Blade on May 16, 2014.
LGBT rights advocates in more than 120 countries will commemorate this year’s International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) with a series of vigils, conferences and other events.
Geena Rocero, a transgender Filipino fashion model who founded Gender Proud, a trans advocacy group, is among those who are scheduled to take part in an IDAHOT event outside of Manila, the country’s capital, that the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines has organized. Rocero on Thursday also participated in a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong that local LGBT rights advocates organized.
The Rainbow Pride Foundation, a Fijian LGBT advocacy group, on May 10 held its own candlelight vigil at a church in Suva, the Pacific island nation’s capital. Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education on the same day held a “conga against homophobia” in the Cuban capital as part of a series of events throughout the country that will commemorate IDAHOT.
The Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays on Friday will hold a symposium at a hotel in the Jamaican capital that will examine challenges that LGBT people in the Caribbean country continue to face. María Eugenia González, co-founder of the Georgia Safe Schools Coalition, is scheduled to attend an anti-bullying conference in the Peruvian city of Iquitos on May 21.
So-called rainbow flash mobs are scheduled to take place in at least 11 Russian cities on May 17. An estimated 100 people are expected to gather in Khabarovsk to release rainbow colored balloons in an IDAHOT demonstration that city officials have allowed to take place.
Svetlana Zakharova of the Russian LGBT Network told the Washington Blade earlier this week that her colleagues are “willing to defend their rights” in spite of the Kremlin’s ongoing crackdown on LGBT rights. These include a 2013 law that bans the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors.
“Whatever the difficulties, many LGBT (people) and their supporters in Russia are looking forward to participating in the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia,” said Zakharova.
Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays Executive Director Dane Lewis had a similar view, noting anti-LGBT violence and discrimination remain pervasive in the country.
“We need to begin to have discussions about the layers of stigma and discrimination experienced by LGBT Jamaicans and the challenges faced by those who identify as Christians,” he said.
Kate Montecarlo Cordova, chair of the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines, noted to the Blade that LGBT Filipinos lack legal protections and access to health care. She said hate crimes and speech, anti-trans harassment and bullying in the predominantly Muslim portion of the country that includes the island of Mindanao often go unreported.
“We, from the transgender community, feel that the IDAHOT celebration is important in our advocacy and in our lives,” said Cordova.
The Mexican government this year is officially organizing IDAHOT for the first time.
Enrique Torre Molina, an LGBT rights advocate and blogger in Mexico City, told the Blade earlier this week that he is hopeful that President Enrique Peña Nieto will speak at an IDAHOT event.
The British Council Mexico on Friday hosted an event that government officials, local LGBT activists and journalists attended.
“The conversation will go beyond the government’s official position and public policy on the subject of homophobia,” said Molina. “Fighting homophobia and promoting respect is, at the end, a task that concerns us all.”
The Finnish government on Thursday announced it will increase its contribution to the Global Equality Fund, a public-private partnership founded by C-SPAN co-founder John Evans that seeks to promote LGBT rights, by one million Euros. A State Department press release noted that Helsinki will continue to work with the governments of Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, the Arcus Foundation and other groups to “build on our shared commitment and partnership to advance freedom, equality and dignity for all.”
“Today of all days, we are reminded that the cause of justice can and must triumph over hatred and prejudice,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. “This is a day of action for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities and their allies all over the world. It is time to reaffirm our commitment to the equality and dignity of all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Gays, trans people gain rights in 2013
IDAHOT first took place on May 17, 2005, to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.
This year’s commemoration takes place against the backdrop of significant progress in the LGBT rights movement in the U.S., Europe, Latin America and other regions of the world.
Ten U.S. states, Brazil, Uruguay, France, England, Wales and New Zealand have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples over the last year. The U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.
The Dutch Senate last December approved a bill that would allow trans people to legally change the gender on their birth certificates and other official documents without undergoing sterilization and sex reassignment surgery. A similar measure advanced in the Chilean Senate earlier this year.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on Thursday signed a bill that bans anti-discrimination in his state. A similar measure took effect in neighboring Delaware last year.
The Indian Supreme Court last month issued a landmark ruling that recognizes trans people as a “third gender.”
Jamaican and Belizean judges last year heard lawsuits challenging their country’s laws that criminalize homosexuality. A Lebanese judge in March struck down the Middle Eastern nation’s anti-sodomy statute in the case of a trans woman who faced charges for allegedly having a relationship with a man.
Gay Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel was sworn into office last December. Angélica Lozano, a former Council woman in the Colombian capital, in March became the first openly LGBT person elected to the South American country’s Congress.
LGBT rights crackdowns continue in Africa, Russia
In spite of this progress, anti-LGBT violence and discrimination remain pervasive in many parts of the world.
The U.S. and several European countries cut aid to Uganda after the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, in February signed into a law a bill that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in January signed a draconian anti-gay bill that, among other things, bans membership in an LGBT advocacy group and punishes those who enter into a same-sex marriage with up to 14 years in prison.
The 2014 Winter Olympics took place in Sochi, Russia, in February against the backdrop of criticism over the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record.
Police arrested 10 activists who held rainbow and Russian flags as they sung the country’s national anthem near Moscow’s Red Square just before the games’ opening ceremony began. Authorities earlier in the day arrested four Russian LGBT rights advocates in St. Petersburg as they marched with a banner in support of adding sexual orientation to the Olympic charter’s anti-discrimination clause.
The Indian Supreme Court late last year recriminalized homosexuality — it announced in April it will consider a motion to reconsider the controversial decision. A new Brunei legal code that punishes those convicted of homosexuality by stoning them to death has sparked global outrage that includes calls to boycott hotels the Bruneian government owns.
A report the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission released earlier this week found discrimination and violence against lesbians, bisexual women and trans people in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, the Philippines and Japan remains pervasive. Grupo Gay da Bahia, a Brazilian LGBT advocacy group, noted more than a quarter of the 338 reported LGBT homicide victims in Brazil in 2012 were trans.
Carlos Vela of the Homosexual Community of Hope in the Loreto Region (of Perú) told the Blade that one LGBT person a week is murdered in the South American country. This violence continues to take place, even as Peruvian lawmakers debate a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions.
“It is the most extreme expression of systematic violence,” said Vela, referring to the murders of LGBT Peruvians.
Jasmine Kaur of Oceania Pride, which took part in the May 10 candlelight vigil in the Fijian capital, noted homophobia, anti-LGBT hate crimes and violence is “quite strong for the LGBTIQ community” in the South Pacific country. She said the Fijian constitution includes a non-discrimination clause, but it is “flawed.”
“The bill of rights has many limitations,” said Kaur. “It is not one that can guarantee its citizens protections.”
The Human Rights Campaign on Thursday released a report that documents advances and setbacks in the global LGBT rights movement over the last year.
“Despite entrenched homophobia and transphobia in many nations around the world, the global fight for LGBT equality made historic gains in 2013,” said HRC Director of Global Engagement Ty Cobb. “At the same time, last year included horrific new anti-LGBT laws as well as alarming trends in anti-LGBT harassment and violence. These serve as important reminders of the many challenges ahead and the tremendous amount of work left to be done.”
Henness Wong, a Hong Kong activist who helped plan IDAHOT events in the former British colony, said the climate for the city’s LGBT residents is slowly beginning to improve in spite of lingering institutional and cultural homophobia and transphobia.
“Hong Kong is definitely safer than Brunei who will stone gays,” said Wong.
The 56-page decision cites two U.S. Supreme Court cases that specifically addressed race-based discrimination and segregation: Loving v. Virginia that found state bans on interracial marriages unconstitutional and Brown v. Board of Education that struck down laws that allowed separate public schools for black and white students.
“The historic disadvantages that homosexuals have suffered have been amply recognized and documented: public scorn, verbal abuse, discrimination in their places of employment and in the access of certain services, including their exclusion from certain aspects of public life,” the judges wrote. “In comparative law it has been argued that discrimination that homosexual couples have suffered when they are denied access to marriage is analogous with the discrimination suffered by interracial couples at another time.”
They further point out the U.S. Supreme Court said in Loving v. Virginia that restricting marriage on the basis of race is “incompatible” with the Equal Protection Clause under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.
“In connection with this analogy, it can be said that the normative power of marriage is of little use if it does not give the possibility to marry the person that one chooses,” the judges wrote.
The court released its decision more than two months after the judges unanimously struck down the Oaxaca law that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.
Three couples tried to apply for marriage licenses in the state, but local authorities denied their applications. Lawyer Alex Alí Méndez Díaz filed lawsuits on behalf of two of the couples in Aug. 2011 and a third in Jan. 2012 who sought legal recourse — an “amparo” in the Mexican judicial system — to ensure local authorities would protect their constitutional rights.
The ruling also comes roughly six weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in cases challenging the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.
“They do it when in our country there is no previous rulings on the subject,” Méndez told the Washington Blade from Mexico City when asked whether it is common for Mexican Supreme Court judges to cite cases from other countries in their decisions. “These rulings are the first at the national level that support the topics in the way in which we had planned.”
Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in the Mexican capital since 2010, and the Mexican Supreme Court has ruled other states must recognize gay marriages legally performed in Mexico City. Gays and lesbians have also married in Quintana Roo on the Yucatán Peninsula, while the state of Coahuila offers property and inheritance rights and other limited legal protections to same-sex couples.
The Uruguay House of Representatives in December overwhelmingly approved a bill that would allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot. Same-sex marriage advocates expect the measure will easily pass in the country’s Senate in April — President José Mujica has said he will sign it into law.
A Colombian Senate committee in December also approved a same-sex marriage bill. A court in the Brazilian state of São Paolo later that month ordered registries to begin offering marriage licenses to same-sex couples without a judge’s approval.
Argentina has allowed same-sex couples to marry since 2010, while Chilean President Sebastián Piñera in 2011 said he would introduce a bill that would allow gay men and lesbians to enter into civil unions. Same-sex couples would be allowed to tie the knot and adopt children in French Guiana under a proposal the French Senate is scheduled to begin debating on April 2.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Feb. 2012 ruled in favor of lesbian Chilean Judge Karen Atala who lost custody of her three daughters to her ex-husband in 2005 because of her sexual orientation. Three gay couples from Chile who had been denied marriage licenses filed a lawsuit with the tribunal last September after the South American country’s Supreme Court ruled against them.
The Mexican Supreme Court cited the Atala case its decision that only applies to the three same-sex couples who had sought marriage licenses in Oaxaca.
“It just confirms that fighting for marriage equality on a federal level makes more sense and is becoming an increasingly global trend,” Enrique Torre Molina, an LGBT activist and blogger in Mexico City, told the Blade.
The Mexican Supreme Court on Wednesday is expected to formally announce its decision on whether the Oaxacan law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman is discriminatory. The judges will have to rule on an additional “amparo” from Oaxaca before gays and lesbians can legally tie the knot in the state.
“For there to be same-sex marriage throughout the country, if there is not a reform of the civil laws of each state, we will need five rulings in each one of the states that comprise the federation [of Mexico,]” Méndez noted.