August 9, 2018 at 9:00 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Countries use registration laws to hinder LGBTI advocacy

World Cup, gay news, Washington Blade

Russian LGBT Sports Federation President Alexander Agapov holds a rainbow flag during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech at the 2018 World Cup in Moscow. Russia is among the countries that use registration laws to hinder LGBTI advocacy efforts. (Photo courtesy Agapov)

A new report indicates governments around the world are using registration laws to target LGBTI advocacy groups.

The report, which OutRight Action International released on Tuesday, indicates 28 percent of the 194 countries surveyed have LGBTI groups that “cannot legally register as LGBTIQ organizations.”

“In these countries disclosing an intention to serve LGBTIQ people sets up a barrier to legal registration,” reads the report’s introduction. “Thus, many organizations pursue registration using more neutral language about their aims and objectives that do not identify that they work with LGBTIQ people.”

The report notes 56 percent of the 194 countries surveyed allow groups to legally register as LGBTI organizations. The report also notes OutRight Action International could not identify LGBTI-specific organizations in 15 percent of the countries it surveyed.

“There’s been talk for a number of years around shrinking civil society space,” OutRight Action International Deputy Executive Director Maria Sjödin told the Washington Blade on Tuesday during a telephone from the Canadian city of Vancouver where she was attending a global LGBTI rights conference. “We wanted to look at this through the specific LGBTIQ lens.”

Sjödin said LGBTI organizations that are allowed to legally register and “become officially recognized” are able to open bank accounts and receive final support, among other things. Sjödin added restricting LGBTI organizations’ ability to register is part of the “tool box” that governments can use to target them.

Singapore sodomy law ‘influences all kinds of policy making’

The report highlights Russia, Nigeria and Singapore as three of the countries in which LGBTI advocacy groups seeking legal recognition face barriers.

A Russian law requires any non-governmental organization that receive funding from outside the country to register as a “foreign agent.” The report also notes Russian authorities under a 2015 law can “ban the operation of foreign organizations deemed to be a risk to national security, public order or national health.”

A law that then-Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed in 2014 prohibits, among other things, membership in an LGBTI advocacy group.

Jean Chong, co-founder of Savoni, an organization for queer women in Singapore, told the Blade on Wednesday during a Skype interview the country’s government prevents LGBTI advocacy groups from registering because they are “against national interest.” Chong, who also works for OutRight Action International, also noted consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in Singapore.

“It influences all kinds of policy making,” she said.

The report notes Morocco, Malaysia and other countries with anti-sodomy laws also prohibit LGBTI advocacy groups from registering. It also notes LGBTI organizations in other countries with homophobic and/or transphobic statutes have been able to legally register.

The report notes a transgender group in Kenya in 2014 was able to register with the country’s NGO Coordination Board. Botswana’s highest court in 2016 ruled Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana, an LGBTI advocacy group, should be allowed to register with the country’s government.

The governments of St. Lucia and other English-speaking Caribbean countries have allowed LGBTI organizations to legally register, even though consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

“LGBTIQ communities and LGBTIQ civil society leaders are strong and resilient,” reads the report. “Yet, this data represents entrenched restrictions on LGBTIQ civil society’s rights.”

“While legal registration is not right for every community-based organization, when it is desired, it should be available without discrimination on the basis of the sexual orientation, gender identity or expression and sex characteristics of the populations that the organization serves,” it adds. “Any restrictions based on these factors amounts to discrimination in the fundamental human rights to expression, association and assembly.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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