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Top 10 international news stories of 2019

Plight of LGBTQ migrants, Chechen crackdown attract coverage



While some countries forge ahead on a more progressive path, others, including the United States, took big steps backwards on LGBTQ equality in 2019. Our staff picks for the top 10 international news stories of the year:

No. 10 Countries grant marriage rights

Taiwanese activists campaign for marriage rights for same-sex couples. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Lu/Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan)

Taiwan and Northern Ireland in 2019 became the latest countries to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Taiwan in May became the first country in Asia to allow gays and lesbians to marry after lawmakers approved a same-sex marriage bill. A law that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples in Northern Ireland took effect on Oct. 22.

Angola and Botswana this year became the latest countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations, although the Botswana government has appealed the High Court ruling that legalized homosexuality. Media reports indicate lawmakers in Gabon in July approved a new penal code that bans “sexual relations between people of the same sex.”

No. 9 Anti-LGBTQ violence persists in Latin America

Camila Díaz Córdova was a transgender woman who was murdered earlier this year in El Salvador. She migrated to the U.S. after receiving death threats, but was deported back to the Central American country. (Photo courtesy of ASPIDH Arcoiris Trans)

Rates of violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity remained high throughout Latin America in 2019.

Camila Díaz Córdova, a transgender woman from El Salvador who the U.S. deported in 2017, died on Feb. 3 after she was found at a hospital with multiple injuries. Three Salvadoran police officers have been charged with Díaz’s murder.

Bruna Benevides of Associação Nacional dos Travestis e Transsexuais, a Brazilian trans advocacy group, on Sept. 13 said during an International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights event in D.C. that a trans person is killed in her country every 48 hours. The International Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association for Latin America and the Caribbean (ILGALAC) in November said four LGBTQ people are killed each day in Latin America.

No. 8 Cuba continues crackdown on LGBTQ activists, journalists

Maykel González Vivero, publisher of Tremenda Nota. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Cuban government in 2019 continued its crackdown against independent LGBTQ activists and journalists.

Cuban police on May 11 arrested several people who took part in an unsanctioned LGBTQ march in Havana. The event took place less than a week after the National Center for Sexual Education, a group directed by Mariela Castro, the daughter of former President Raúl Castro, cancelled its International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia marches that were scheduled to take place in the Cuban capital and in the city of Camagüey.

The Cuban government on May 8 refused to allow this reporter into the country after arriving at Havana’s José Martí International Airport. Maykel González Vivero, director and co-founder of Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba, is among the independent journalists who the Cuban government has prohibited from leaving the country.

The U.S. on Sept. 18 granted asylum to Yariel Valdés González, a Blade contributor who suffered persecution in Cuba because he is a journalist. He remains in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody because his case has been appealed.

No. 7 Gay Luxembourg leader addresses U.N.

Xavier Bettel, Luxembourg, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade
Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel on Sept. 24, 2019, made history when he became the first out head of state to speak about LGBTI-specific issues at the U.N. General Assembly. Bettel was among those who spoke at a U.N. LGBTI Core Group event. (Photo by Julien Becker; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel on Sept. 24 became the first out head of government to speak about LGBTQ-specific issues at a U.N. General Assembly.

“Being gay is not a choice, but not accepting it is a choice,” said Bettel at a U.N. LGBTI Core Group event that focused on efforts to end anti-LGBTQ hate speech in social and traditional media. “Homophobia is a choice and we have to fight against it!”

Luxembourg is a small, wealthy European country that borders France, Belgium and Germany. Bettel took office in 2015.

No. 6 Hong Kong reaffirmed as 2022 Gay Games host

Gay Games, gay news, Washington Blade
A June pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong. (Photo courtesy Voice of America/public domain)(Photo by Studio Incendo via Flickr)

The Federation of Gay Games and the Gay Games Hong Kong Management Team in November reaffirmed the decision to hold the 2022 Gay Games in Hong Kong, despite pro-democracy protests that rocked the city this year.

The protests began in response to a proposed law that would allow Hong Kong to extradite residents to China for prosecution. The pro-democracy movement, which includes prominent LGBTQ activists, continues, even though Chief Executive Carrie Lam scrapped the proposal.

Hong Kong was a British colony until China regained control of it in 1997 under an agreement with the U.K. Lam’s pro-Beijing party in November suffered serious loses in Hong Kong’s local elections.

No. 5 Murders of at least 331 transgender people

Ashanti Carmon, gay news, Washington Blade
A vigil honoring Ashanti Carmon. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Transrespect Versus Transphobia Worldwide, a project that Transgender Europe launched, on Nov. 20 published a report that says 331 “trans and gender-diverse people” were reported killed between Oct. 1, 2018, and Sept. 30, 2019.

The report notes Brazil, Mexico and the U.S. had the highest number of murders.

Two trans women of color — Ashanti Carmon and Zoe Spears — were killed in Fairmount Heights, Md., on March 30 and June 13 respectively. Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the U.N.’s LGBTQ rights watchdog, told the Blade after Transrespect Versus Transphobia Worldwide released its report the number of trans people reported killed is “only the tip of the iceberg.”

No. 4 Brunei penal code sparks global backlash

Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, sharia, anti-gay, gay news, Washington Blade
The Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah has come under criticism for a new penal code that would impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of committing sodomy. (Photo by the Presidential Press and Information Office of via Wikimedia Commons)

A provision of Brunei’s new penal code that sought to impose the death penalty for anyone found guilty of consensual same-sex sexual relations sparked outrage around the world.

The State Department, U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet are among those who sharply criticized the penal code. Ellen DeGeneres and George Clooney also called for a boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel and other properties that Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah owns.

The Bruneian government in May announced it had placed a moratorium on the death penalty in the country.

No. 3 Anti-LGBTQ crackdown continues in Chechnya

The Washington Blade on April 23, 2019, interviewed a gay man from Chechnya who is seeking asylum in the U.S. The man asked the Blade not to publish his name or disclose his identity. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The anti-LGBTQ crackdown in Chechnya continued in 2019.

The Russian LGBT Network on Jan. 14 said at least two people were killed and upwards of 40 others were detained in a “new wave of illegal detentions in Chechnya based on the alleged sexual orientation of victims, both men and women.” The Blade in April spoke with a gay man from Chechnya with HIV who said he asked for asylum in the U.S. “It’s not safe for gay people,” he said, referring to Chechnya.

The State Department in January described the additional reports from the Russian LGBT Network as “deeply disturbing.” President Trump has not publicly commented on the crackdown.

No. 2 Homophobic Brazilian president takes office

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. (Photo by Agência Brasil Fotografias; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro took office on Jan. 1.

Bolsonaro, a former Brazilian Army captain, continues to face widespread criticism over his rhetoric against LGBTQ Brazilians and other underrepresented groups.

Bolsonaro on March 19 stressed his government’s “respect of traditional family values” and opposition to “gender identity” as he spoke alongside President Trump during a press conference in the White House Rose Garden. Bolsonaro on the same day met with Pat Robertson and other evangelical Christians.

Bolsonaro was scheduled to accept an award from the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce in New York on May 14. Bolsonaro cancelled his planned trip to the U.S. after LGBTQ activists, among others, pressured sponsors to withdraw their sponsorship of the event.

No. 1 Trump immigration policy puts LGBTQ migrants at risk

Johana Medina León was a private nurse in her native El Salvador before she migrated to the U.S. in January. Medina, who was transgender, died in a Texas hospital on June 1, 2019, three days after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released her from their custody. Medina’s mother, Patricia Medina de Barrientos, spoke exclusively with the Washington Blade in San Salvador, El Salvador, on July 24, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Patricia Medina de Barrientes)

President Trump’s hardline immigration policies continue to place LGBTQ migrants at risk.

Activists on both sides of the Mexico-U.S. border with whom the Blade spoke in 2019 said the White House’s controversial “remain in Mexico” program that forces migrants to remain in Mexico as they await the outcome of their asylum cases places LGBTQ migrants at increased risk of violence. Activists have also sharply criticized U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement over its treatment of LGBTQ migrants who are in their custody.

More than two-dozen transgender women who were in ICE custody at the Cibola County Correctional Center, a privately run facility in rural New Mexico, on June 26 signed a letter in which they complained about inadequate health care and mistreatment from staff. A dozen gay men and trans women in March said they suffered “rampant sexual harassment, discrimination and abuse” at the Otero County Processing Center, another privately run ICE detention center in New Mexico.

Johana “Joa” Medina León, a trans woman from El Salvador with HIV, on June 1 died at a hospital in El Paso, Texas. ICE released her from its custody three days before her death.

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D.C. man charged with 2020 anti-gay death threat rearrested

Defendant implicated in three anti-LGBTQ incidents since 2011



shooting, DC Eagle, assault, hate crime, anti-gay attack, police discrimination, sex police, Sisson, gay news, Washington Blade

A D.C. man arrested in August 2020 for allegedly threatening to kill a gay man outside the victim’s apartment in the city’s Adams Morgan neighborhood and who was released while awaiting trial was arrested again two weeks ago for allegedly threatening to kill another man in an unrelated incident.

D.C. Superior Court records show that Jalal Malki, who was 37 at the time of his 2020 arrest on a charge of bias-related attempts to do bodily harm against the gay man, was charged on May 4, 2021 with unlawful entry, simple assault, threats to kidnap and injure a person, and attempted possession of a prohibited weapon against the owner of a vacant house at 4412 Georgia Ave., N.W.

Court charging documents state that Malki was allegedly staying at the house without permission as a squatter. An arrest affidavit filed in court by D.C. police says Malki allegedly threatened to kill the man who owns the house shortly after the man arrived at the house while Malki was inside.

According to the affidavit, Malki walked up to the owner of the house while the owner was sitting in his car after having called police and told him, “If you come back here, I’m going to kill you.” While making that threat Malki displayed what appeared to be a gun in his waistband, but which was later found to be a toy gun, the affidavit says.

Malki then walked back inside the house minutes before police arrived and arrested him. Court records show that similar to the court proceedings following his 2020 arrest for threatening the gay man, a judge in the latest case ordered Malki released while awaiting trial. In both cases, the judge ordered him to stay away from the two men he allegedly threatened to kill.

An arrest affidavit filed by D.C. police in the 2020 case states that Malki allegedly made the threats inside an apartment building where the victim lived on the 2300 block of Champlain Street, N.W. It says Malki was living in a nearby building but often visited the building where the victim lived.

“Victim 1 continued to state during an interview that it was not the first time that Defendant 1 had made threats to him, but this time Defendant 1 stated that if he caught him outside, he would ‘fucking kill him.’” the affidavit says. It quotes the victim as saying during this time Malki repeatedly called the victim a “fucking faggot.”

The affidavit, prepared by the arresting officers, says that after the officers arrested Malki and were leading him to a police transport vehicle to be booked for the arrest, he expressed an “excited utterance” that he was “in disbelief that officers sided with the ‘fucking faggot.’”

Court records show that Malki is scheduled to appear in court on June 4 for a status hearing for both the 2020 arrest and the arrest two weeks ago for allegedly threatening to kill the owner of the house in which police say he was illegally squatting.

Superior Court records show that Malki had been arrested three times between 2011 and 2015 in cases unrelated to the 2021 and 2020 cases for allegedly also making threats of violence against people. Two of the cases appear to be LGBTQ related, but prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not list the cases as hate crimes.

In the first of the three cases, filed in July 2011, Malki allegedly shoved a man inside Dupont Circle and threatened to kill him after asking the man why he was wearing a purple shirt.

“Victim 1 believes the assault occurred because Suspect 1 believes Victim 1 is a homosexual,” the police arrest affidavit says.

Court records show prosecutors charged Malki with simple assault and threats to do bodily harm in the case. But the court records show that on Sept. 13, 2011, D.C. Superior Court Judge Stephen F. Eilperin found Malki not guilty on both charges following a non-jury trial.

The online court records do not state why the judge rendered a not guilty verdict. With the courthouse currently closed to the public and the press due to COVID-related restrictions, the Washington Blade couldn’t immediately obtain the records to determine the judge’s reason for the verdict.

In the second case, court records show Malki was arrested by D.C. police outside the Townhouse Tavern bar and restaurant at 1637 R St., N.W. on Nov. 7, 2012 for allegedly threatening one or more people with a knife after employees ordered Malki to leave the establishment for “disorderly behavior.”

At the time, the Townhouse Tavern was located next door to the gay nightclub Cobalt, which before going out of business two years ago, was located at the corner of 17th and R Streets, N.W.

The police arrest affidavit in the case says Malki allegedly pointed a knife in a threatening way at two of the tavern’s employees who blocked his path when he attempted to re-enter the tavern. The affidavit says he was initially charged by D.C. police with assault with a dangerous weapon – knife. Court records, however, show that prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office lowered the charges to two counts of simple assault. The records show that on Jan. 15, 2013, Malki pleaded guilty to the two charges as part of a plea bargain arrangement.

The records show that Judge Marissa Demeo on that same day issued a sentence of 30 days for each of the two charges but suspended all 30 days for both counts. She then sentenced Malki to one year of supervised probation for both charges and ordered that he undergo alcohol and drug testing and undergo treatment if appropriate.

In the third case prior to the 2020 and 2021 cases, court records show Malki was arrested outside the Cobalt gay nightclub on March 14, 2015 on multiple counts of simple assault, attempted assault with a dangerous weapon – knife, possession of a prohibited weapon – knife, and unlawful entry.

The arrest affidavit says an altercation started on the sidewalk outside the bar when for unknown reasons, Malki grabbed a female customer who was outside smoking and attempted to pull her toward him. When her female friend came to her aid, Malki allegedly got “aggressive” by threatening the woman and “removed what appeared to be a knife from an unknown location” and pointed it at the woman’s friend in a threatening way, the affidavit says.

It says a Cobalt employee minutes later ordered Malki to leave the area and he appeared to do so. But others noticed that he walked toward another entrance door to Cobalt and attempted to enter the establishment knowing he had been ordered not to return because of previous problems with his behavior, the affidavit says. When he attempted to push away another employee to force his way into Cobalt, Malki fell to the ground during a scuffle and other employees held him on the ground while someone else called D.C. police.

Court records show that similar to all of Malki’s arrests, a judge released him while awaiting trial and ordered him to stay away from Cobalt and all of those he was charged with threatening and assaulting.

The records show that on Sept. 18, 2015, Malki agreed to a plea bargain offer by prosecutors in which all except two of the charges – attempted possession of a prohibited weapon and simple assault – were dropped. Judge Alfred S. Irving Jr. on Oct. 2, 2015 sentenced Malki to 60 days of incarnation for each of the two charges but suspended all but five days, which he allowed Malki to serve on weekends, the court records show.

The judge ordered that the two five-day jail terms could be served concurrently, meaning just five days total would be served, according to court records. The records also show that Judge Irving sentenced Malki to one year of supervised probation for each of the two counts and ordered that he enter an alcohol treatment program and stay away from Cobalt.

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Biden names civil rights veteran to U.S. Education Dept.

Catherine Lhamon’s portfolio will include LGBTQ rights, sexual misconduct, racial discrimination



Nominee for Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education Catherine Lhamon. (Photo public domain))

The White House announced Thursday that President Joe Biden has nominated Catherine Lhamon to serve as the Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

Lhamon currently serves as a Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council for Racial Justice and Equity at the White House, where she manages the President’s equity policy portfolio. She is a former attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU) and served as chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 2017 to 2021.

She has also served as Legal Affairs Secretary to California Governor Gavin Newsom.

Her portfolio at Education, where she previously served in the same position under former President Barack Obama, will include LGBTQ rights, sexual misconduct and racial discrimination in the nation’s K-12 schools, universities and colleges. Lhamon was Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, to which President Obama nominated her and the Senate confirmed her in 2013.

“I am thrilled that President Biden is nominating Catherine Lhamon to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. Catherine has devoted her career to ensuring equity is at the core of all her work,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement released by his office Thursday.

“She has a strong record of fighting for communities of color and underserved communities, whether as the current Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council, the former chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, or as a civil rights educator at Georgetown University. We are thrilled to have Catherine serving as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and know she will continue to fight for fairness, equity, and justice for all of America’s students.”

Lhamon has also litigated civil rights cases at National Center for Youth Law, Public Counsel Law Center, and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.  Lhamon taught federal civil rights appeals at Georgetown University Law Center in the Appellate Litigation Program and clerked for the Honorable William A. Norris on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

“Catherine Lhamon is the right choice to lead the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights at such a critical time for the country and the agency. There is much work to do in order to roll back the harmful policies and legacies of Betsy DeVos, from her attacks on transgender students to her unconscionable revocation of discriminatory discipline guidance and rewrite of Title IX rules,” Adele Kimmel, Director of the Students’ Civil Rights Project at Public Justice told the Blade in an email.

“During her previous tenure in the same job, Catherine embraced equality, enforced Title IX and ensured students had an ally inside the federal government. She will do so again, and the Senate should move to quickly confirm her so she can begin the work of restoring the Department’s commitment to protecting the civil rights and dignity of students and implementing the Biden Administration’s pledge to undo the damage that DeVos has done,” Kimmel added.

Born in Virginia and raised in California, Lhamon graduated from Amherst College and Yale Law School. Lhamon and her husband and two daughters are transitioning between California and Maryland.

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IDAHOBiT events to promote intersectionality, resilience, allyship

HRC president to participate in virtual panel in Canada



(Photo courtesy of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia committee)


Intersectionality, resilience and allyship are among the themes that this year’s International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia events will highlight.

Dignity Network Canada and the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention on May 17 will hold a virtual panel that will feature Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David, Canadian Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity Executive Director Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah, Kaleidoscope Trust Executive Director Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, COC Nederland Executive Director Marie Ricardo and Rainbow Railroad Executive Director Kimahli Powell. The British High Commission and the Dutch Embassy in Canada have co-sponsored the event.

“We hope that this will be a really interesting and important conversation on intersectionality and transnational solidarity — and what it means for these leaders and their organizations during these times,” reads a description of the event.

The U.N. LGBTI Core Group on May 17 will host a virtual IDAHOBiT event that will focus on ways to develop an “inclusive and diverse post-pandemic world.” The World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Inter-American and Asian Development Banks host a similar IDAHOBiT commemoration.

“In order to heal from the economic, social, and public health dire impact the pandemic has had and still has, every plan of recovery must take into account a human-rights based, intersectional and gender responsive approach that addresses the specific needs of LGBTI persons in order not to leave them further behind,” reads a description of the U.N. LGBTI Core Group event.

Several Russian LGBTQ rights groups on May 17 will hold a “Vaccine for Acceptance” event that seeks to bolster allyship in the country.

Retired South Africa Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron on May 16 will moderate a virtual panel that will focus on religion and anti-LGBTQ violence.

Workplace Pride and the Dutch Embassy in Budapest on May 17 will host a symposium on LGBTQ-inclusive workplaces in Hungary. M.V. Lee Badgett, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, on the same day will participate in a webinar the U.S. Embassy in Singapore is hosting with Oogachaga, a local LGBTQ advocacy group.

Haver Srbija, a Serbian NGO, on May 15-16 will hold Falafel, a film festival that seeks to build “bridges and promotes Israeli, Jewish and LGBTQI culture and communities” and highlight “various social issues in the context of the fight against prejudice, discrimination, anti-Semitism, homophobia and xenophobia and encourages the audience to develop critical thinking on the issue of these topics.” Proud Lebanon is slated to hold a series of six webinars between May 17-22 that will focus on feminism, LGBTQ rights and other topics.

The National Center for Sexual Education in Cuba will hold a series of virtual forums and other events through the month to commemorate IDAHOBiT.

CENESEX Director Mariela Castro, whose father is former Cuban President Raúl Castro, during a May 4 press conference in Havana said the IDAHOBiT events are part of the process of amending the country’s family code to make it more equitable for LGBTQ Cubans. Mariela Castro said a bill to amend it will be introduced in the Cuban Parliament in July.

“I was able to appreciate that the majority of the population … is in favor of recognizing the rights of LGBTI+ people and especially the rights in the family sphere that include the possibility, the option, of marriage,” said Mariela Castro during the press conference, according to Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba.

IDAHOBiT commemorates the World Health Organization’s 1990 decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

This year’s events will take place against the backdrop of a pandemic that continues to exacerbate existing inequalities for LGBTQ people and other vulnerable groups around the world.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in dozens of countries. Violence based on gender identity and sexual orientation remains rampant in the U.S. and throughout the world.

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