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LGBT advocates from Kyrgyzstan visit D.C.

Anti-gay propaganda bill remains before lawmakers

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Terry Stone, gay news, Washington Blade

Terry Stone, gay news, Washington Blade

Two LGBT rights advocates from Kyrgyzstan traveled to D.C. and New York last week. (Photo by torbakhopper; courtesy Flickr)

Two LGBT rights advocates from Kyrgyzstan met with U.S. government officials and some of their American counterparts in D.C. last week.

Aizhan Kadralieva of Labrys Kyrgyzstan and Ruslan Kim of Kyrgyz Indigo met with Special U.S. Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry at the State Department. The advocates also sat down with Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline, Arcus Foundation Executive Director Kevin Jennings and representatives of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Kadralieva and Kim met with U.N. officials in New York before they traveled to the nation’s capital on Feb. 24.

The advocates returned to Kyrgyzstan on Sunday.

U.S. ‘good example’ of equality and tolerance

The advocates’ trip coincides with mounting concern over a bill that would ban the promotion of so-called gay propaganda.

The measure has passed twice in the Kyrgyz Parliament. Lawmakers must approve it a third time before it goes to President Almazbek Atambayev for his signature.

“I’m hopeful that he will veto this,” Kim told the Washington Blade on Feb. 25 during an interview at Human Rights First’s offices in Northwest Washington.

Cicilline and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) are among the members of Congress who have urged Kyrgyz lawmakers to vote against the propaganda bill. The Kyrgyz Ministry of Justice, the European Parliament and the U.N. Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights have also indicated their opposition to the measure.

Secretary of State John Kerry last fall did not publicly discuss the bill during his trip to Kyrgyzstan.

“He was really careful,” Kim told the Blade.

Kadralieva made a similar point, noting the U.S. government supports LGBT-specific efforts and human rights in general in Kyrgyzstan.

“The U.S. is a really good example of nondiscrimination and equality and tolerance,” she told the Blade.

Advocates face discrimination, violence

Kyrgyzstan borders Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and China. The Central Asian country declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Kadralieva and Kim told the Blade that nationalists and conservative religious and societal attitudes are among the challenges they and other LGBT advocates face.

Molotov cocktails were thrown into Labrys Kyrgyzstan’s office in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, last year.

Kadralieva told the Blade that a group of nationalists a few weeks later attacked an International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia event that was taking place at a local cafe. She said the police officers who responded placed the victims in the same room as those who attacked them.

Kadralieva said they were inside the police station for seven hours. Kim told the blade that the officers were “having tea and nice conversation with the homophobes.”

“They were drinking tea at the same time our activists were sitting scared somewhere without access to water,” he said.

Kim told the Blade that he was attacked when he tried to help another advocate. He said the police officers who responded described Kyrgyz Indigo as a “fag organization” and pressured him to report the activist as a “pedophile.”

“I said I would never do this,” said Kim.

Kim and Kadralieva throughout the interview highlighted other examples of anti-LGBT violence and discrimination.

One such case involves a gay man who hanged himself after his parents found out he had a boyfriend and pressured him to marry a woman. Kim said the parents blamed their son’s boyfriend for his death and attacked him with a knife.

“We helped that guy,” he told the Blade. “Right now he’s in a safe place and he’s still alive.”

Kim said the family of an activist blamed him for the fire that damaged their apartment. Kyrgyz Indigo was able to find housing for the advocate through the summer.

“After this he will be on the street because of his activities,” said Kim.

Kyrgyzstan, Almazbek Atambaev, John Kerry, gay news, Washington Blade

Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on Oct. 31, 2015. (Photo courtesy of the State Department)

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Out in the World: LGBTQ news from Europe and Asia

German lawmakers on Friday passed a transgender rights bill

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(Los Angeles Blade graphic)

MONACO

(Photo courtesy of the Principality of Monaco)

Monaco’s top court struck down two lower court rulings that would have required the tiny Mediterranean principality to recognize foreign same-sex marriages, in a ruling that has not yet been published.

The case centered around a binational Monegasque-American same-sex couple who married in Grand Rapids, Mich., in August 2019 while residents in that state. When they returned to Monaco the following year, the government refused to record them in the state register of marriages.

“Although valid, this union cannot be transcribed in the marriage register in view of its manifest contrariety with Monegasque public order characterized by the constitutional principle according to which the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman religion is the state religion,” stated a letter from the Public Prosecutor’s Office in a letter to the Civil Registrar on the matter.

The letter goes on to invite the couple to instead form a cohabitation contract, which has been available to same-sex couples in Monaco as a form of civil union since 2020.

The couple rejected that offer and appealed to the attorney general, who again refused to recognize the marriage, so the couple took their case to court.

In March 2022, the court of first instance ruled in the couple’s favor, citing the presumption in international private law that marriages validly concluded in one country are generally recognized in any country. The court also found that the same-sex marriages are not contrary to the public order simply because Catholicism is the state religion, and that the cohabitation agreements are inadequate to protect the family rights of married couples.

The prosecutor general quickly appealed the decision, but the Court of Appeal once again ruled in September 2023 in the couple’s favor. The court also found that the state’s offer that the couple could protect their rights through a cohabitation agreement to be impractical, as the cohabitation law specifically says that agreements are unavailable to anyone who is already married. 

Still, the government appealed the decision to the Court of Revision, Monaco’s highest court dealing with administrative matters. That court finally ruled that the government is not obliged to record same-sex marriages, striking down the previous two rulings. 

LGBTQ rights have long been a contentious issue in the tiny city-state of approximately 39,000. While there are no local LGBTQ advocacy organizations, the state has been pushed to enhance the legal rights of its queer citizens by its larger European neighbors.

Monaco was one of the last states in Western Europe to offer legal recognition to same-sex couples through the 2020 Cohabitation Agreement Bill, which came about largely because Monaco recognized it was in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, which courts have interpreted as requiring states to give equal recognition to same-sex couples. 

Still, the cohabitation agreement is explicitly unequal to marriage. Couples in cohabitation agreements are not considered families and can even include siblings or other relatives. They don’t enjoy equal treatment in terms of taxation or inheritance, can’t choose a common surname and can’t adopt and cohabitation with a Monegasque citizen doesn’t entitle a partner to residency rights the way marriage does.

Monaco also lacks any anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, and transgender people are not allowed to change their legal gender. 

ITALY

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni with Argentine President Javier Milei in February during a state visit. (Photo courtesy of Meloni’s office)

During a press briefing Friday at the conference “For a Young Europe: Demographic Transition, Environment, Future,” Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni took aim at the practice of surrogacy which is already illegal in Italy saying the practice is “inhuman.” 

The prime minister’s party recently introduced legislation in the Italian Parliament that would further criminalize the act by hiking fines from €600,000 to €1 million ($640,290 to $1,067,150) and increasing jail terms from three months up to two years.

“I continue to believe that surrogacy is an inhuman practice,” Meloni said. “I support the bill that makes it a universal crime,” she added.

Last week Pope Francis issued a papal document, the 20-page Dignitas infinita, which stated that surrogacy “violates” both the dignity of the child and the woman, who “becomes a mere means subservient to the arbitrary gain or desire of others.” The document also declared gender-affirming surgery to be a grave violation of human dignity.

CNN reported that the move to criminalize surrogacy is largely seen as a move against the LGBTQ community. Italy was the last European country to legalize same sex unions, which it did in 2016 but does not allow gay couples to be “married,” in line with the Catholic Church.

Under Meloni’s government, birth certificates were changed to list “mother” and “father” rather than “parent 1” and “parent 2.” In 2023 some communities where her Brothers of Italy leads the government, names of lesbian mothers were removed from birth certificates.

CZECH REPUBLIC

Czech Parliament (Photo courtesy of the Czech Parliament)

The Czech Senate began consideration of bill that would enhance the rights of people in same-sex civil partnerships this week, continuing a tense legislative process that has seen pro-and anti-LGBTQ groups lobbying lawmakers to make changes to the bill.

The civil partnership bill passed through the lower house of parliament in February. It was a compromise after a bill that would have allowed same-sex marriage couldn’t get enough support to pass. 

The bill makes registered partnerships, which have been legal in the Czech Republic since 2005, equivalent to marriage in all matters except adoption. Same-sex couples will have the right to stepchild adoption only — couples will not be allowed to jointly adopt.

Some senators have presented amendments to the bill that would allow same-sex marriage and full joint adoption, but some legislators think this strategy is risky — any amendments would send the bill back to the lower house, where it’s not clear they could pass. 

On the other hand, some senators are pushing amendments that would water down the bill further, by eliminating adoption entirely. 

Leading up to the senate debate, LGBTQ advocates were sanguine about the prospects of getting everything they want.

“Together with the majority of Czech society, we sent a clear message to our legislators: Only the institute of equal marriage will ensure equal legal protection, social security and family stability for all couples and families with children,” wrote Lucia Zachariášová a lawyer who works with the LGBTQ advocacy organization Jsme Fér in an open letter to legislators this week. 

“However, the partnership can at this moment fulfill a promise repeated so much that if it is not a question of marriage, there will be no problem to accept such a solution. It is important to repeat again: it will help especially families with children to have a little more restful sleep,” she writes.

So far, three senate committees have examined the bill, recommending either that the Senate pass the bill as is or simply not debate it. In the Czech system, if the Senate doesn’t address a bill passed by the House, it is sent to the president to be signed into law anyway. The president is expected to sign the bill, as he campaigned for full marriage equality.

One more committee is set to examine the bill next week before it’s scheduled for debate on the senate floor April 17. 

If the Senate rejects a bill, or passes it with an amendment, it returns to the lower house, where deputies can either accept the amendment or reaffirm the bill with the support of an absolute majority or 101 votes. The bill originally passed through the lower Chamber of Deputies with 118 votes in favor.

While Czech LGBTQ people are disappointed by the lack of progress on marriage equality, they’re also anxious to get the bill passed, as it would still offer a great improvement to the legal rights of many same-sex couples and their children.

“The House is not expected to improve the amendment. On the contrary, there is a fear that the situation could worsen or that everything would fall under the table,” Jsme Fér said of the progress on the bill in a post on X. “[Senators] fear a debate that might not be dignified for hundreds of thousands of LGBT people, and after six years of debates in the House of Representatives, everything important has already been said.”

GERMANY

The German Reichstag in Berlin in 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The German Parliament on Friday voted 374-251 to pass a new law allowing trans people to change their legal gender by a simple administrative procedure, replacing outdated requirements from the 1980s for declarations of support from doctors and other invasive procedures.

The new law also imposes hefty fines of up to €10,000 ($10,658.85) on anyone intentionally disclosing a trans person’s previous name or gender for a harmful purpose. The law allows exceptions in cases where disclosure would be a legal requirement, for example in a court proceeding or a police investigation.

Under the new law, trans people may change their legal gender to male, female or “diverse” — a third-gender option already available under German law. Applicants can also request that no gender details be recorded at all. Trans people will simply file a request, and then appear in person at a registry office three months later to make the change official. 

The new law is open to people over 18. Those between 14 and 17 will need a parent’s permission to file the application, while those under 14 will require parents to file the application on their behalf. 

Applicants are limited to one name and gender change within 12 months. The law also allows the government to suspend applications to change legal gender from male to female or diverse made up to two months before a national emergency is declared.

The law continues to allow operators of women-only spaces, such as gyms or changing rooms, to decide on their own who is allowed to access them. 

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the law was about showing respect to gender-diverse people.

“We show respect to trans, intersex and non-binary people — without taking anything away from others. This is how we continue to drive the modernization of our country. This includes recognizing realities of life and making them possible by law,” Scholz wrote in a statement on X.

The law was part of the governing agreement made by the current governing coalition. The upper house of parliament does not need to vote on the bill. The law will come into effect in November.

Under the 1980 Transsexuals Law, trans people were required to get two expert reports from doctors attesting that the applicant will not be likely to want to return to their previous legal gender. These reports often required trans people to undergo invasive psychological and physical examinations and would add months of delay and average additional costs of up to €2000 (approximately $2,130.)

The Constitutional Court struck down a requirement that trans people have sex reassignment surgery and be sterilized in 2011. The same court required the government to create a non-binary option for intersex people in 2017, which the government did a year later.

Germany’s coalition government, in place since September 2021, has promised to introduce several pro-LGBTQ policies, including creating a hate crime law, amending the Basic Law to ban discrimination based on sexual identity, and automatic parenthood recognition for same-sex parents.

UNITED KINGDOM

(Photo by Rob Wilson via Bigstock)

A government-commissioned review of gender care services for trans youth in England and Wales has sparked an outcry from trans activists who say that the review discounted decades of research showing the value of gender care treatment to reach a conclusion that care should be restricted for youth.

The “Cass Review” was commissioned by the National Health Service England in 2020 to examine gender care services for young people following reports showing a large increase in the number of youth accessing care at the now-closed Gender Identity Development Service. The Review was led by Dr. Hilary Cass, a former president of the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health.

The disputed report concluded that there isn’t good scientific evidence to support most forms of gender care, including puberty blockers, hormone therapy or social transition.

“While a considerable amount of research has been published in this field, systematic evidence reviews demonstrated the poor quality of the published studies, meaning there is not a reliable evidence base upon which to make clinical decisions, or for children and their families to make informed choices,” reads an excerpt of the report’s executive summary.

But trans advocates criticized that conclusion, pointing out that Cass held existing studies of gender care to an impossible standard. Her report discounted any study that wasn’t based on double-blind trials, which they say would not be possible or ethical.

“The Cass Review dismisses a very large number of studies and omits studies from the past two years. Hence, it neglects a vast amount of evidence on the benefits of gender affirming medical treatment for trans youth in its analysis,” writes Dr. Hane Maung of the trans healthcare service GenderGP.

“For many medical interventions, including gender affirming medical treatment for trans youth, randomized controlled trials are unfeasible and unethical, because the consequences of not intervening would be very apparent to the participants and also would be unacceptably harmful,” he says.

The Cass Review urges caution in treatment for trans youth, including a new recommendation that medical consultations be undertaken before youth are allowed to socially transition — a major expansion of the medicalization of gender identity. Some trans activists also noticed that the review suggests increased surveillance of trans care through age 25, suspecting this implies further restricting care into adulthood.

The day the Cass Review was published, NHS England announced it would be launching a review of adult gender care, alleging whistleblower complaints.

The Guardian reports that Cass also advised the government to be cautious with the proposed ban on conversion therapy, which the government has put under review, but which is unlikely to be introduced before an election is held. Cass reportedly urged the minister responsible to ensure that doctors providing gender care are insulated from accusations of conversion practices, claiming that doctors are already afraid to take a more cautious approach to providing treatment.

The Cass Review has already made waves across the UK, with transphobic author JK Rowling claiming that it vindicates her years-long anti-trans campaigning, and claiming she would “never forgive” “Harry Potter” stars Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson for supporting trans rights.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak endorsed the report’s findings.

“We care above all about the wellbeing of children and it’s clear that these things are not neutral acts, whether that’s social transitioning, any kind of medical intervention, we simply do not know the long-term effects of these things,” he says. “And that’s why anyone involved in considering these issues, of course, has to treat people with sensitivity and compassion, but also have to be extremely cautious when it comes to taking any action.”

The opposition Labour Party, which is expected to win national elections later this year, has already said it would implement all of the Cass Review recommendations when in government. Labour’s shadow minister for health told the Sun that he no longer stood by the statement that “trans women are women” in the wake of the review. 

The NHS Scotland and NHS Wales, which hold devolved responsibility for care in those countries, said they were reviewing Cass’ findings.

BELARUS

Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko. (Belarusian Telegraph Agency screenshot)

The government of Belarus issued a decree this week declaring that depictions of LGBTQ people may be considered illegal pornography, whether or not sexual acts are depicted.

The Culture Ministry amended a decree on “erotic materials” to include homosexuality or transgender as “non-traditional sexual relationship or behavior,” equivalent to necrophilia, pedophilia, and voyeurism. 

That may mean that depictions of LGBTQ people are considered pornography. Under Belarussian law, production, distribution and public displays of pornography are punishable with up to 4 years in prison, or up to 13 years for child pornography. 

Using these new definitions, an innocuous picture of a same-sex couple with their child, or a picture of a trans child, or a picture of two same-sex teens on a date, could all be considered child pornography.

According to Human Rights Watch, it is not yet clear how the government plans to interpret and enforce the new decree.

Belarus is one of the least free countries in Europe according to the human rights advocacy group Freedom House. Often considered a client state of neighboring Russia, Belarus tends to follow its larger neighbor culturally and politically. The country has bene governed by President Alexander Lukashenko since 1994, with political dissidents routinely jailed and media heavily censored. 

LGBTQ Belarusians lack any protections from discrimination, and anti-LGBTQ violence is common. Officials have floated introducing a Russia-style “gay propaganda” law over the years, but one has never been formally enacted.

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Kansas

Kansas governor vetoes ban on health care for transgender youth

Republican lawmakers have vowed to override veto

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Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed two abortion bills and a measure criminalizing transgender health care for minors. House and Senate Republican leaders responded with promises to seek veto overrides when the full Legislature returned to Topeka on April 26. (Photo by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

BY TIM CARPENTER | Gov. Laura Kelly flexed a veto pen to reject bills Friday prohibiting gender identity health care for transgender youth, introducing a vague crime of coercing someone to have an abortion and implementing a broader survey of women seeking abortion that was certain to trigger veto override attempts in the Republican-led House and Senate.

The decisions by the Democratic governor to use her authority to reject these health and abortion rights bills didn’t come as a surprise given her previous opposition to lawmakers intervening in personal decisions that she believed ought to remain the domain of families and physicians.

Kelly said Senate Bill 233, which would ban gender-affirming care for trans minors in Kansas, was an unwarranted attack on a small number of Kansans under 18. She said the bill was based on a politically distorted belief the Legislature knew better than parents how to raise their children.

She said it was neither a conservative nor Kansas value to block medical professionals from performing surgery or prescribing puberty blockers for their patients. She said stripping doctors of their licenses for serving health interests of patients was wrong. Under the bill, offending physicians could be face lawsuits and their professional liability insurance couldn’t be relied on to defend themselves in court.

“To be clear, this legislation tramples parental rights,” Kelly said. “The last place that I would want to be as a politician is between a parent and a child who needed medical care of any kind. And, yet, that is exactly what this legislation does.”

Senate President Ty Masterson (R-Andover) and House Speaker Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita) responded to the governor by denouncing the vetoes and pledging to seek overrides when legislators returned to the Capitol on April 26. The trans bill was passed 27-13 in the Senate and 82-39 in the House, suggesting both chambers were in striking distance of a two-thirds majority necessary to thwart the governor.

“The governor has made it clear yet again that the radical left controls her veto pen,” Masterson said. “This devotion to extremism will not stand, and we look forward to overriding her vetoes when we return in two weeks.”

Cathryn Oakley, senior director of the Human Rights Campaign, said the ban on crucial, medically necessary health care for trans youth was discriminatory, designed to spread dangerous misinformation and timed to rile up anti-LGBTQ activists.

“Every credible medical organization — representing over 1.3 million doctors in the United States — calls for age-appropriate, gender-affirming care for transgender and nonbinary people,” Oakley said. “This is why majorities of Americans oppose criminalizing or banning gender-affirming care.”

Abortion coercion

Kelly also vetoed House Bill 2436 that would create the felony crime of engaging in physical, financial or documentary coercion to compel a girl or woman to end a pregnancy despite an expressed desire to carry the fetus to term. It was approved 27-11 in the Senate and 82-37 in the House, again potentially on the cusp of achieving a veto override.

The legislation would establish sentences of one year in jail and $5,000 fine for those guilty of abortion coercion. The fine could be elevated to $10,000 if the adult applying the pressure was the fetuses’ father and the pregnant female was under 18. If the coercion was accompanied by crimes of stalking, domestic battery, kidnapping or about 20 other offenses the prison sentence could be elevated to 25 years behind bars.

Kelly said no one should be forced to undergo a medical procedure against their will. She said threatening violence against another individual was already a crime in Kansas.

“Additionally, I am concerned with the vague language in this bill and its potential to intrude upon private, often difficult, conversations between a person and their family, friends and health care providers,” the governor said. “This overly broad language risks criminalizing Kansans who are being confided in by their loved ones or simply sharing their expertise as a health care provider.”

Hawkins, the House Republican leader, said coercion was wrong regardless of the circumstances and Kelly’s veto of the bill was a step too far to the left.

“It’s a sad day for Kansas when the governor’s uncompromising support for abortion won’t even allow her to advocate for trafficking and abuse victims who are coerced into the procedure,” Hawkins said.

Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, said HB 2436 sought to equate abortion with crime, perpetuate false narratives and erode a fundamental constitutional right to bodily autonomy. The bill did nothing to protect Kansas from reproductive coercion, including forced pregnancy or tampering with birth control.

“Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes trusts patients and stands firmly against any legislation that seeks to undermine reproductive rights or limit access to essential health care services,” Wales said.

Danielle Underwood, spokeswoman for Kansas for Life, said “Coercion Kelly” demonstrated with this veto a lack of compassion for women pushed into an abortion.

The abortion survey

The House and Senate approved a bill requiring more than a dozen questions be added to surveys of women attempting to terminate a pregnancy in Kansas. Colorful debate in the House included consideration of public health benefits of requiring interviews of men about reasons they sought a vasectomy birth control procedure or why individuals turned to health professionals for treatment of erectile dysfunction.

House Bill 2749 adopted 81-39 in the House and 27-13 in the Senate would require the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to produce twice-a-year reports on responses to the expanded abortion survey. The state of Kansas cannot require women to answer questions on the survey.

Kelly said in her veto message the bill was “invasive and unnecessary” and legislators should have taken into account rejection in August 2022 of a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution that would have set the stage for legislation further limiting or ending access to abortion.

“There is no valid medical reason to force a woman to disclose to the Legislature if they have been a victim of abuse, rape or incest prior to obtaining an abortion,” Kelly said. “There is also no valid reason to force a woman to disclose to the Legislature why she is seeking an abortion. I refuse to sign legislation that goes against the will of the majority of Kansans who spoke loudly on Aug. 2, 2022. Kansans don’t want politicians involved in their private medical decisions.”

Wales, of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, said the bill would have compelled health care providers to “interrogate patients seeking abortion care” and to engage in violations of patient privacy while inflicting undue emotional distress.

Hawkins, the Republican House speaker, said the record numbers of Kansas abortions — the increase has been driven by bans or restrictions imposed in other states — was sufficient to warrant scrutiny of KDHE reporting on abortion. He also said the governor had no business suppressing reporting on abortion and criticized her for tapping into “irrational fears of offending the for-profit pro-abortion lobby.”

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Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.

The preceding story was previously published by the Kansas Reflector and is republished with permission.

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The Kansas Reflector is a nonprofit news operation providing in-depth reporting, diverse opinions and daily coverage of state government and politics. This public service is free to readers and other news outlets. We are part of States Newsroom: the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization, with reporting from every capital.

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Colorado

Five transgender, nonbinary ICE detainees allege mistreatment at Colo. detention center

Advocacy groups filed complaint with federal officials on April 9

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(Photo courtesy of GEO Group)

Five transgender and nonbinary people who are in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at a privately-run detention center in Colorado say they continue to suffer mistreatment.

The Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network, the National Immigration Project and the American Immigration Council on April 9 filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s Offices for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Immigration Detention Ombudsman and Inspector General and ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility on behalf of the detainees at the Aurora Contract Detention Facility near Denver.

Charlotte, one of the five complainants, says she spends up to 23 hours a day in her room. 

She says in the complaint that a psychiatrist has prescribed her medications for anxiety and depression, but “is in the dark about her actual diagnoses because they were not explained to her.” Myriah and Elsa allege they do not have regular access to hormones and other related health care.

Omar, who identifies as trans and nonbinary, in the complaint alleges they would “start hormone replacement therapy if they could be assured that they would not be placed in solitary confinement.” Other detainees in the complaint allege staff have also threatened to place them in isolation.

“They have been told repeatedly that, if they started therapy, they would be placed in ‘protective custody’ (solitary confinement) because the Aurora facility has no nonbinary or men’s transgender housing unit,” reads the complaint. “This is so, despite other trans men having been detained in Aurora in the past, so Omar is very likely receiving misinformation that is preventing them from accessing the treatment they require.”

Omar further alleges staffers told them upon their arrival that “they had to have a ‘boy part’ (meaning a penis) to be assigned to” the housing unit in which other trans people live. Other complainants say staff have also subjected them to degrading comments and other mistreatment because of their gender identity. 

“Victoria, Charlotte and Myriah are all apprehensive about a specific female guard who is assigned to the housing unit for transgender women at Aurora,” reads the complaint. “Victoria has experienced this guard peering at her through the glass on the door of her form. Charlotte, Myriah and the other women in her dorm experienced the same guard making fun of them after they complained that she had confiscated all of their personal hygiene products, like their toothbrushes and toothpaste, and replaced them with menstrual pads and tampons, which she knows they do not need.”

“She said something to them like, ‘If you were real women, you would need these things,'” reads the complaint. “The same guard told them that they had to ask her for their personal hygiene products when they wanted to use them, stripping them of their most basic agency.”

Victoria, who has been in ICE custody for more than two years, also says she does not have regular access to hormones. Victoria further claims poor food, lack of access to exercise and stress and anxiety because of her prolonged detention has caused has made her health deteriorate.

The GEO Group, a Florida-based company, operates the Aurora Contract Detention Facility.

Advocates for years have complained about the conditions for trans and nonbinary people in ICE custody and have demanded the agency release all of them.

Roxsana Hernández, a trans Honduran woman with HIV, on May 25, 2018, died in ICE custody in New Mexico. Her family in 2020 sued the federal government and the five private companies who were responsible for her care.

Johana “Joa” Medina Leon, a trans Salvadoran woman, on June 1, 2019, passed away at a Texas hospital four days after her release from ICE custody. Kelly González Aguilar, a trans Honduran woman, had been in ICE custody for more than two years until her release from the Aurora Contract Detention Center on July 14, 2020.

ICE spokesperson Steve Kotecki on Friday told the Blade there were 10 “self-identified transgender detainees” at the Aurora Contract Detention Center on April 11. The facility’s “transgendered units” can accommodate up to 87 trans detainees. 

A 2015 memorandum then-ICE Executive Associate Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations Thomas Homan signed requires personnel to allow trans detainees to identify themselves based on their gender identity on data forms. The directive, among other things, also contains guidelines for a “respectful, safe and secure environment” for trans detainees and requires detention facilities to provide them with access to hormone therapy and other trans-specific health care.

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is committed to ensuring that all those in its custody reside in safe, secure and humane environments,” said Kotecki. “ICE regularly reviews each case involving self-identified transgender noncitizens and determines on a case-by-case basis whether detention is warranted.”

The complaint, however, states this memo does not go far enough to protect trans and nonbinary detainees.

“ICE’s 2015 guidance has some significant flaws,” it reads. “It fails to provide meaningful remedies for policy violations. It does not acknowledge the challenges that nonbinary people face when imprisoned by ICE and the lack of such guidance explains why the needs of nonbinary people are largely misunderstood and unmet.”

“Further, the language used to describe people who are TNB is not inclusive and does not reflect terminology adopted by the community it is meant to describe,” adds the complaint. “Although this list is not exhaustive, it addresses some of the primary concerns voiced by the complaints.”

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