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British gay group to expand int’l advocacy efforts

Four Stonewall U.K. staffers work on global LGBT issues; more planned

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Ben Summerskill, Stonewall, gay news, Washington Blade
Ben Summerskill, Stonewall, gay news, Washington Blade

Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill (Photo courtesy of Stonewall)

CONWAY, N.H.—The head of the U.K.’s largest gay advocacy group told the Washington Blade last month his organization has begun to devote more resources to the global LGBT rights movement now that marriage rights for same-sex couples have been secured in England and Wales.

Stonewall U.K. Chief Executive Ben Summerskill said during an extensive interview in New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Valley on Dec. 20 where he was spending the holidays that his organization hopes to hire additional staff to continue its work on LGBT-specific issues in Uganda, Russia, Eastern Europe and other areas.

Four of Stonewall’s 70 staffers currently work directly on these issues. The organization also works with the British Foreign Office and the U.K. Department of International Development to raise them at the United Nations.

“I was very anxious historically about us getting engaged in that sort of territory while we didn’t have complete legal equality in Britain,” said Summerskill. “It just opened you up to the people who turn up in Uganda to say what are you doing? Why have you come to lecture us?”

Summerskill spoke with the Blade hours after the Ugandan Parliament approved a bill that would impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. The Indian Supreme Court’s Dec. 11 ruling that recriminalized homosexuality sparked global outrage.

Summerskill said he feels it is more effective to work through the U.K. commonwealth — as opposed to “standing outside [the Ugandan embassy in London] in the rain with placards” — to address anti-LGBT laws in former British colonies. He also applauded British Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to begin channeling foreign aid directly to non-governmental organizations in Uganda and other countries as opposed to giving it directly to governments whose records on LGBT rights and other issues have sparked criticism.

“I don’t think any LGBT campaigner, however strongly they feel about Uganda, would think that it was a good thing that people should starve just so we feel we’re making some progress around human rights for gay people,” said Summerskill.

Another Stonewall strategy is to work with U.K.-based businesses to urge countries in which they do business to improve their LGBT rights records.

Summerskill told the Blade many of the corporations that are part of Stonewall’s Diversity Champions program that promotes gay and lesbian equality in the workplace are “becoming increasingly uneasy in investing in countries of that sort.” Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, which is not a member of Stonewall’s workplace advisory group, on Dec. 23 announced he would not do business in Uganda because of the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

“That is another way in which we can put pressure on Uganda and other governments,” said Summerskill. “And we’ll continue to do so.”

Organization opposes Olympic boycott

Stonewall remains opposed to a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place next month in Sochi, Russia, over the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record.

Summerskill said this position “has been informed from day one” by Russian LGBT rights advocates with whom his organization works.

“They were crystal clear again from day one that that’s not what they thought was the best way of moving the needle in terms of the reality of everyday life for gay people in Russia,” he said.

Summerskill said Elton John was “right” to perform in Russia last month — the gay British singer specifically criticized a law that bans gay propaganda to minors during a Dec. 6 concert in Moscow. Summerskill added he feels the BBC’s decision to send lesbian reporter Clare Balding to Sochi to host its coverage of the games sends a strong message to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“She will be there making a very powerful point,” said Summerskill. “The coverage will be anchored by someone who billions of people by then will know is a lesbian.”

The Independent on Dec. 20 reported Cameron would not attend the Sochi games. The newspaper cited sources within the U.K. government who said the decision is not a boycott the Olympics over Russia’s LGBT rights record.

“[Cameron] has been crystal clear about what he thinks,” said Summerskill, noting British prime ministers have never attended the Winter Olympics. “He’s raised the issue face-to-face with Mr. Putin, which again would have been unthinkable when Mrs. Thatcher was prime minister, and he’s been prepared to do that very publicly. And that actually is something we should all have been quite encouraging about.”

A group of gay and lesbian advocates that campaigned against a bill that would have banned the “promotion” of homosexuality in public schools in the U.K. founded Stonewall in 1989. Stonewall Scotland and Stonewall Cymru (Wales) operate within their respective regions of the country.

Stonewall’s annual income in 2014 will be £4.5 million ($7.37 million.)

Gays and lesbians in England and Wales can begin to legally marry on March 29. A final vote on a measure that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in Scotland is expected to take place in the coming weeks.

The government of Northern Ireland in November announced it had lifted the ban on gay couples adopting children.

IBM, Barclays and Goldman Sachs are among the nearly 650 companies that are members of Stonewall’s Diversity Champions program. They pay the organization an annual fee of £2,500 ($4,090) to receive advice and other materials on how to become a welcoming workplace for gays and lesbians.

“We’re very conscious that we just don’t have a situation where they do what we call signing the poster, which is all a bit too easy,” said Summerskill. “They actually pay us.”

Stonewall has also worked with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to develop a campaign to tackle anti-gay bullying in U.K. schools.

The U.K.’s anti-discrimination law protects trans people in employment and public accommodation, but Summerskill said some of the statutes need “tidying up.” Trans people in the U.K. have been able to legally change their gender on birth certificates and other documents without sex-reassignment surgery since 2004, but the country’s hate crimes law does not include gender identity and expression.

Stonewall Scotland advocates for transgender rights, and Stonewall does so on the international level.

Stonewall and Stonewall Cymru do not specifically advocate for trans rights because Summerskill said English and Welsh trans advocates have specifically asked them not to do so. This stance has sparked division among some British LGBT rights advocates.

“While that’s a lively debate, we’ve kind of finessed that by trying to be as supportive as we possibly can of trans people but not claiming to speak on their behalf if a material number have said we don’t want you to,” Summerskill told the Blade. “Happily there is an infrastructure, although it’s fragile, of seven or eight quite good trans organizations in Britain.”

Summerskill also discussed British Olympic diver Tom Daley’s acknowledgement last month that he is in a relationship with a man widely reported to be “Milk” screenwriter Dustin Lance Black.

He categorized the Olympian who won a bronze medal during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London as a “national treasure” alongside Balding, John and comedian Stephen Frye. Summerskill added most of the reaction to Daley’s announcement from within the U.K. was along the lines of “Oh, he’s a nice young man.”

“We want him to do well in the Olympics in 2016,” said Summerskill. “If being able to be who he is makes that easier, which it almost certainly does, then he will probably perform better.”

Summerskill also discussed those who were quick to label Daley as bisexual or gay, even though the British Olympian has not used either term to identify himself.

“He’s kind of said he’s in a relationship with another guy,” Summerskill told the Blade. “It’s pretty clear what that means unless you’re a queer theorist looking to be upset by someone whose not using the language you like to use to describe what’s going on in your life.”

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Pope Francis: Priests can bless gays and lesbians, not same-sex unions

’60 Minutes’ broadcast Norah O’Donnell’s interview with pontiff on Sunday

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Pope Francis (Photo by palinchak via Bigstock)

Pope Francis said priests can bless gays and lesbians who are couples, as opposed to their unions, during an interview that “60 Minutes” broadcast on Sunday.

“What I allowed was not to bless the union. That cannot be done because that is not the sacrament. I cannot. The Lord made it that way. But to bless each person, yes. The blessing is for everyone,” he told CBS Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell.

Francis spoke with O’Donnell at Casa Santa Marta, his official residence at the Vatican.

“To bless a homosexual-type union, however, goes against the given right, against the law of the church. But to bless each person, why not?,” added Francis. “The blessing is for all. Some people were scandalized by this. But why? Everyone! Everyone!”

The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith late last year released a new document that elaborates on a letter Francis sent earlier in 2023 to five cardinals who urged him to reaffirm church teaching on homosexuality. 

Francis in the letter the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith released in October 2023 suggested priests could offer blessings to same-sex couples under some circumstances “if they didn’t confuse the blessing with sacramental marriage.”

“Ultimately, a blessing offers people a means to increase their trust in God,” reads the document. “The request for a blessing, thus, expresses and nurtures openness to the transcendence, mercy and closeness to God in a thousand concrete circumstances of life, which is no small thing in the world in which we live.”

Francis was the archbishop of Buenos Aires when Argentina’s marriage equality law took effect in 2010. He was among those who vehemently opposed the statute before then-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed it.

Francis has publicly endorsed civil unions for same-sex couples. He has also spoken out against laws that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

“It is a human fact,” Francis told O’Donnell.

The Vatican’s tone towards LGBTQ issues has softened since Francis assumed the papacy in 2013, even though church teachings on gender identity and other topics has not changed. Francis during the interview sharply criticized conservative American bishops who “oppose” his “new efforts to revisit teachings and traditions.” 

“You used an adjective, ‘conservative.’ That is, conservative is one who clings to something and does not want to see beyond that. It is a suicidal attitude,” he told O’Donnell. “Because one thing is to take tradition into account, to consider situations from the past, but quite another is to be closed up inside a dogmatic box.” 

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Out in the World: LGBTQ news from Europe and Asia

Liechtenstein lawmakers approved a marriage equality bill on May 15

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(Los Angeles Blade graphic)

ILGA-Europe

A Pride flag and an EU flag fly near ILGA-Europe’s Brussels offices (Photo courtesy of ILGA-Europe)

ILGA-Europe released its annual Rainbow Europe Map module ranking countries across the continent on the status of LGBTQ rights, revealing that many countries are falling behind as political pressure from far-right politicians grows.

The report was released May 15, just a day after the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency released its own report detailing a shocking growth in violence experienced by LGBTQ people across member states over the past year.

“Across Europe, LGBTI people are being targeted by hate speech and violence and their human rights are being actively undermined, yet we still see too many countries across the region stalling in moving legal protection forward and not renewing their commitments through national strategies and action plans,” says ILGA-Europe Advocacy Director Katrin Hugendubel.

“This non-action is dangerous, as without proper legislation in place to protect minorities, including LGBTI people, it will be much too easy for newly elected governments to quickly undermine human rights and democracy.”

Once again, Malta held the lead in the country rankings, as it has for the past nine years, scoring 88 percent across ILGA-Europe’s categories of equality and nondiscrimination law, family recognition, hate crime and hate speech laws, legal gender recognition, intersex bodily integrity, civil society space, and asylum policies. 

Iceland jumped to second place with 83 percent after passing new laws banning conversion therapy and facilitating legal gender recognition. Belgium reached third place with 78 percent after banning conversion therapy.

At the other end of the spectrum, Russia (2 percent), Azerbaijan (2 percent), and Turkey (5 percent) hold the bottom rankings amid ongoing crackdowns on LGBTQ rights and expression in all three countries. Last year, Russia banned “the LGBT movement” as an “extremist organization.”

Several countries jumped up the rankings in this year’s report, including Greece and Estonia, which both legalized same-sex marriage. Liechtenstein collected points for extending adoption rights to same-sex couples, although it did not collect points for legalizing same-sex marriage, which happened the day after the report was released.

Germany, Bulgaria, Iceland, and Slovenia all collected points for passing legislation on hate crimes and hate speech, while Belgium, Cyprus, Iceland, Norway, and Portugal all collected points for banning conversion therapy. 

But the changes haven’t all been positive. Several countries tumbled down the rankings as progress stalled on LGBTQ rights. Montenegro, Finland, Spain, Sweden, and Slovenia all lost points because their governments failed to renew action plans to promote LGBTQ rights. The report also noted the looming threat of right-wing governments across Europe, including in Italy where the national government has restricted the recognition of same-sex parents, and in several countries which are eying restrictions on legal gender recognition and trans health care, including France, UK, Slovakia, and Croatia. 

The UK once occupied the top spot on ILGA-Europe’s rankings, but has fallen to 15th place as other countries press ahead on LGBTQ rights while the UK’s Conservative government has increasingly come under the sway of an anti-transgender moral panic.

LIECHTENSTEIN

Liechtenstein’s parliament in the capital city of Vaduz. (Photo courtesy of the Principality of Liechtenstein)

The Alpine microstate Liechtenstein saw its parliament give final approval to legalizing same-sex marriage in a near-unanimous vote on May 15.

By a vote of 24-1, parliament approved a series of bills that would amend marriage law to allow same-sex couples to marry in the country of about 30,000 people nestled between Switzerland and Austria. The only “no” vote came from an MP from the right-wing populist Democrats for Liechtenstein party.

The new law will come into effect on Jan 1, 2025, as long as it is not vetoed by the prince or challenged in a citizen-initiated referendum. The prince is not expected to veto the bill, as he has previously expressed support for same-sex marriage. 

Under the new law, no new civil unions will be registered, although same-sex couples already in same-sex unions will be allowed to continue their unions. 

Liechtenstein’s parliament had already amended the law to allow same-sex couples to adopt last year, following an order from the Constitutional Court. 

The tiny, conservative-leaning and mostly Catholic country has been slow to adopt LGBTQ rights. It lacks any legal protections from employment discrimination or anti-LGBTQ hate crimes. 

ILGA-Europe ranked Liechtenstein 33rd out of 48 states in Europe, with a score of 28 percent on its latest Rainbow Europe Map. This decision on marriage will likely see it rise somewhat in the rankings next year.

The Catholic Church has previously strongly rejected same-sex marriage. Last year, the country’s archbishop, Wolfgang Haas had called same-sex marriage a “diabolical attack against the Creator’s will to salvation,” and cancelled a planned service for opening of Parliament in protest of the law. Haas has since retired.

The decision makes Liechtenstein the last German-speaking country to legalize same-sex marriage.

In a state posted to its Facebook group, the Liechtenstein LGBTQ advocacy group FLay thanked the lawmakers and other supporters who helped get same-sex marriage legalized in the country. 

“We are looking forward to introducing marriage for all per 1 January 2025 and thank you to all who have fought for it,” the statement said.

Liechtenstein is the 22nd European country to introduce same-sex marriage, bringing the global total to 38 countries. A bill before the Thai Senate is expected to pass before the summer, which would make it the 39th.

GEORGIA

Screenshot from DW Germany’s live-stream YouTube coverage of massive protests in Tbilisi, Georgia, against actions taken by the country’s parliament this past week.

The government of the former Soviet republic of Georgia says it is close to finalizing a new law against so-called LGBTQ propaganda inspired by similar laws passed in Russia and Belarus in recent years, in what critics say is an attempt to maintain power by stoking divisions on a culturally sensitive issue.

The Georgian capital of Tbilisi has been rocked by protests for weeks as the ruling Georgian Dream party reintroduced a controversial “foreign agents” bill inspired by a similar Russian law, which requires any organization that receives funding from out of the country to register with the government as “organizations serving the interests of a foreign power.” 

Critics say the bill is intended to silence and discredit media and civil society that is critical of the government.

May 17 saw intense protests marked by anti-government and pro-European demonstrators marking the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia while anti-LGBTQ protesters, including Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze and church leaders took to the streets to mark the government’s competing “Family Purity Day,” Reuters reported.

The party had first introduced the foreign agents bill last year, but withdrew it after months of protests and condemnation from EU countries. The government reintroduced the bill this spring, with some observers suggesting it’s an attempt to tip this October’s national elections in their favor. For weeks, protesters have attempted to halt passage of the law, but parliament gave it final approval May 14. It was vetoed by President Salome Zurabishvili on Saturday, but the government has enough votes in parliament to override the veto.

The proposed anti-LGBTQ law would amend article 30 of the Georgian Constitution to include a host of regulations restricting LGBTQ rights. It would ban recognition of same-sex relationships, ban adoption by gay people or same-sex couples, ban medical interventions to facilitate gender change, restrict recognition of gender to that of biological sex, and ban advocacy for recognition of same-sex couples or trans people.

To pass, the bill would require at least a 3/4 vote of parliament (113 votes), or a 2/3 vote (100 votes) in each of two successive parliaments. The government currently controls 84 of the 150 seats in parliament, but likely believes it can pull enough votes from the opposition to pass the constitutional law.

Critics have noted that both laws put Georgia’s application to join the EU in jeopardy as they clearly attack the fundamental rights at the heart of the union. But while the EU has been sharply critical of the foreign agents law, its criticism of the anti-LGBTQ law has been far more muted. 

Local activists say that the EU’s silence has been strategic, as any criticism would play into the hands of Georgian Dream, who claim that LGBTQ rights are a “pseudo-liberal ideology” advanced by a decadent West.

The timing of the bill is likely meant to further divide the opposition as protests mount against the foreign agents law. Georgian Dream has been sliding in the polls since it was returned to power in 2020, but still commands a plurality of support compared to the highly fractured opposition according to most polls. 

Georgian Dream politicians have deep ties to Russia, and have increasingly sided with Russia in international and cultural disputes, including by refusing to impose sanction against Russia for the invasion of Ukraine. The support is ironic, considering that Russian forces invaded Georgia in 2008 and continues to support two unrecognized breakaway republics that resulted from that war.

On May 17, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) of the House Foreign Affairs Committee announced that he plans to introduce legislation to sanction Georgian leaders over their assault on democracy and introduce incentives for the government to reverse course.

ILGA-Europe ranked Georgia 36th out of 48 countries, with a score of just 25 percent on its most recent Rainbow Europe Map this week.

UNITED KINGDOM

10 Downing St. is Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s official residence and office (Photo courtesy of the U.K. government)

The Conservative government of the UK has directed schools in England to ban discussion of gender identity in schools and restrict sex education for children under age nine, in an update to statutory guidance issued to schools that is currently under review.

Although the guidance has not yet been released or put into effect, LGBTQ activists and government critics are already comparing the guidance to the notorious Thatcher-era Section 28, which banned discussion of homosexuality in all schools across the UK from 1988 until it was repealed in England and Wales in 2003 and in Scotland in 2000. 

The UK has long been in the grip of an anti-trans moral panic, fostered by segments of the ruling Conservative Party that are hostile to trans people and influential British celebrities like “Harry Potter” creator JK Rowling who has long campaigned against trans people’s rights.

Last week, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak appeared on ITV’s daytime talk show “Loose Women,” where he complained that “gender ideology” was infiltrating UK schools. 

“Children were being exposed to lots of different things,” Sunak said. “You know, we’ve got lots of people talking to kids, they were talking about [how] you can have 72 different gender identities.”

There is no evidence that children in UK schools are being taught that there are 72 different gender identities or are being taught to engage in inappropriate behavior.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who was recently reelected to a third term, blasted the government’s new policy as being harmful to the children the government claims to want to protect.

“We’ve just got to be a bit aware when we have these conversations that we’re conscious about the impact that this has on trans young people,” he said.

“Many of these people — young people — learn about these things through social media. You know, the proliferation of porn, and also the proliferation of misogynists like Andrew Tate. If we’re delaying proper, responsible teaching until later on, I worry about who’s going to be rebutting some of the nonsense on social media.”

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan tried to mollify critics by claiming that the new policy will not restrict discussion of adults who have undergone gender reassignment. 

“Gender reassignment” is listed as protected characteristic under the 2010 Equality Act, but the act does not list “gender identity” or “gender expression” as protected characteristics. 

“Let me be clear on gender ideology in schools,” Keegan said on BBC Radio 4’s “Today.” “The thing that we’re trying to stop is not gender reassignment. Gender reassignment is something that is a protected characteristic — that adults are allowed to reassign their gender, there’s a process that they go through for that. That is a protected characteristic, and that can be taught.

Gender identity and ideology is something different, and this is part of probably similar campaign groups that have been building this set of materials and this ideology,” she said.

Jo Morgan, the chief executive of Engendering Change, an organization that provides sex education workshops in schools, disputed the idea that schools are teaching children to be trans.

“They are concerned that schools are becoming breeding grounds for transgenderism. There’s no evidence to support that. What we are doing as educators is saying, this is in the news, in social media, it’s everywhere — let’s unpack it together and look at what sources of information you are being exposed to, let’s talk about how this relates to the Equality Act,” Morgan told the Guardian.

ILGA-Europe ranked the UK 15th out of 48 countries with a score of just 52 percent on its most recent Rainbow Europe report, citing a lack of legal protections for trans people and outdated procedures for legal gender recognition.

TAIWAN

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen with Taiwanese drag queen Nymphia Wind, winner of season 16 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” (Screenshot/YouTube Livestream)

Outgoing Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen hosted “RuPaul’s Drag Race” winner Nymphia Wind at a ceremony at her presidential office May 15, in a sign of the growing acceptance of LGBTQ people in the Asian island nation.

The Taiwanese-American performer Nymphia Wind was crowned the winner of season 16 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” in an episode that aired April 19, taking home the crown and scepter and a cash prize of $200,000. She is the first person of East Asian descent to win the long-running reality competition series. American drag artist Raja, who is of Dutch-Indonesian ancestry, was the first “Drag Race” winner of Asian descent after taking the crown in season three.

Tsai had been quick to offer her congratulations to Wind, posting a message on Instagram just days after her victory. Less than a month later, Wind was in her office, where she performed a trio of songs in full drag — Lady Gaga’s “Marry the Night,” Taiwanese singer Huang Fei’s “Chase, Chase, Chase,” and Jolin Tsai’s gender equality hit “Womxnly,” which she performed with a quintet of backup dancers in drag.  

“I want to thank you for demonstrating your fearless beauty, standing up and breaking down barriers,” Tsai said to Wind after her performance, noting that her win “will bring courage to many young people in Taiwan, so they stay fearless and stay true to their hearts.”

Under Tsai’s leadership, Taiwan has become a bastion of liberal values, including progressive attitudes toward LGBTQ people. Among recent landmarks, Taiwan legalized same-sex marriage and adoption, and it banned conversion therapy, and the capital Taipei hosts East Asia’s largest Pride festival. 

“Thank you for your contributions to this country, so that I could grow up to be like this today,” Wind told Tsai after her performance. “Thank you for your eight years of dedication, becoming our Taiwan mother.”

Tsai stepped down May 20. Her successor, Vice President Lai Ching-te, last year became the most senior government official to march in Taipei’s Pride parade.

NEW ZEALAND

Wellington Regional Hospital (Photo courtesy of Tom Ackroyd/Wellington Regional Hospital)

Activists are calling for greater access to gender-affirming surgeries after the “New Zealand Medical Journal” published a report of a trans teenager who attempted a self-mastectomy at home and had to be treated at hospital.

The teenager, an 18-year-old high school student, had reportedly watched a “how to” video on YouTube and prepared instruments for the surgery himself. He went to the hospital hours into the surgery after he became concerned that he had damaged a nerve while attempting to remove his left breast. 

Surgeons at the hospital then removed both breasts, and he was discharged a day later. The report notes that the boy reported higher confidence and self-esteem at a post-operation interview a month later. The hospital’s mental health team assessed that he did not have a psychiatric disorder and was not suicidal, but that he had attempted the surgery as an act of desperation.

“Due to the long wait times of referral in the public healthcare system, an inability to afford a private consultation and the significant psychological stress of having breasts at an upcoming pool party he planned to complete a bilateral (double) self-mastectomy at home,” wrote the report’s authors, Wellington Regional Hospital doctors Mairarangi Haimona, Sue Hui Ong, and Scott Diamond.

Gender-affirming surgeries are covered by New Zealand’s healthcare system, but wait times for surgeries can be lengthy – 10 years or longer for “bottom surgery” by the only doctor in the country who performs it. 

Top surgery can be accessed in the parallel private system for around NZ $15,000 (approximately $9,200) and is generally not covered by private health insurance, putting it out of reach for many. 

Transgender people often need to self-advocate for care in the public health system, but with increasing demand and associated psychological and possible physical harm it’s crucial for public services to be more accessible to an under-served population,” the report’s authors concluded.

Self-surgery is an incredibly risky option for trans people — complications can range from scarring to infection to death. And the surgeries may not even work if the patient is taken to the hospital and patched up due to complications. 

Te Ahi Wi-Hongi, executive director of the advocacy group Gender Minorities Aotearoa, urges any trans person considering home surgery to avoid it and “hang in there.”

“It might seem right now it’s completely hopeless, but we went from a 40-year waiting list for genital reconstruction surgery to 10 years or less when in 2019 the government made changes [announcing $3 million funding for genital gender-affirming surgery],” Wi-Hongi told the New Zealand Herald.

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Bill to support LGBTQ seniors in rural areas reintroduced

Advocates praise Elder Pride Act

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(Washington Blade file photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), and Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) reintroduced legislation to increase access to needed services and resources for LGBTQ seniors who live in rural areas this week.

The Elder Pride Act would bolster the capacity and ability of Area Agencies on Aging located in rural communities to better serve and support LGBTQ seniors who often require affirming care, services, and supports that are often underfunded and scarce in many parts of the country.

Recent surveys show that between 2.9 million and 3.8 million LGBTQ people live in rural American communities.

“LGBTQ+ elders and older people living with HIV live in every part of this nation, including rural areas. We all deserve to be able to age in our communities with the services and supports we need to remain independent,” SAGE CEO Michael Adams said in the press release announcing the reintroduction of the legislation. “We commend Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Sharice Davids (D-KS) on reintroducing the Elder Pride Act. And we honor the contributions of our many LGBTQ+ trailblazers whose tireless advocacy allowed us to reintroduce this critical bill. We look forward to working alongside Reps. Bonamici, Pocan, and Davids, and our LGBTQ+ pioneers nationwide to pass this legislation.”

“LGBTQI+ seniors should be able to access services and care that meets their unique needs, regardless of where they live,” said Bonamici, chair of the Equality Caucus’s LGBTQ+ Aging Issues Task Force.”Those who live in rural areas frequently face increased barriers, which Congress can break down. The Elder Pride Act will increase resources for programs and services that will improve the lives of LGBTQI+ elders.”

“The Elder Pride Act will improve the overall health and social and economic well-being of LGBTQI+ older adults and seniors living with HIV in rural areas by better equipping senior service providers with resources to address the unique needs of these communities. I’m pleased to introduce this important legislation with my colleagues and co-leaders on the Equality Caucus, Reps. Pocan and Davids,” Bonamici added.

“Rural LGBTQI+ seniors have been lacking access to necessary services and care for too long,” said Pocan, co-chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus. “The Elder Pride Act creates opportunities for LGBTQ+ seniors in rural communities, benefiting everyone in the region. I look forward to advancing this important legislation.”

“Many of our LGBTQ+ elders fought tirelessly for equality in a world that refused to accept their identity,” said Davids. “While they overcame tremendous odds to give future generations the rights they deserve, our elders, particularly those in rural communities, continue to face discrimination when accessing long-term care and healthcare. I am proud to support the Elder Pride Act because who you are and who you love should never increase your risk for isolation, poverty, and poor health outcomes as you age.”

The Elder Pride Act complements the Older American Act, which was updated under Bonamici’s leadership, by establishing a rural grant program designed to fund care and services for LGBTQ seniors. The grant would also support programs that:

• Provide services such as cultural competency training for service providers;

• Develop modes of connection between LGBTQI+ older adults and local service providers and community organizations;

• Expand the use of nondiscrimination policies and community spaces for older adults who are members of the LGBTQI+ community or another protected class; and,

• Disseminate resources on sexual health and aging for senior service providers.

A fact sheet on the legislation can be found here, and the full text can be found here.

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