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Biden urged to ensure COVID-19 vaccines reach LGBTQ people abroad

US bought 500 million Pfizer doses for COVAX initiative

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COVID-19 vaccine, gay news, Washington Blade

Four Democratic congressmembers have asked President Biden to ensure some of the 500 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine it bought to distribute around the world will reach LGBTQ people that the pandemic has left even more vulnerable.

“While we are pleased to see the administration’s efforts to support global public health, we would like to ensure these vaccines are equitably distributed once they are sent abroad,” wrote U.S. Reps. Dina Titus (D-Nev.), William Keating (D-Mass.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) in a letter they sent Biden on Tuesday.

The Washington Blade exclusively obtained the letter.

“We are particularly concerned that the LGBTQI+ community may be unjustly excluded from receiving vaccines in various countries,” it reads.

The Biden administration last week announced the U.S. will buy 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine. The African Union and 92 countries around the world will receive them through COVAX, a global initiative the World Health Organization co-founded in order to ensure equitable distribution of the vaccine.

The letter notes the pandemic “exposed inequity in health care systems around the world for many marginalized groups, especially the LGBTQI+ community.”

“Due to stigma, violence, and discrimination, LGBTQI+ people — and transgender and non-binary individuals, in particular — face additional barriers to accessing relief and health care services,” wrote the congressmembers. “In addition to non-inclusive approaches to distributing relief, unsafe distribution centers and anti-LGBTQI+ sentiments and/or rhetoric of relief workers may also prevent LGBTQI+ individuals from obtaining vaccines.”

The letter, among other things, notes transgender people in Panama faced discrimination under gender-based regulations the country’s government implemented to control the pandemic’s spread. The congressmembers also cite Ugandan authorities who charged 19 LGBTQ people with violating coronavirus-related social distancing rules after their April 2020 arrest at a shelter in the country’s capital of Kampala and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s efforts to further restrict LGBTQ rights in his country after lawmakers gave him more power under the guise of combatting the pandemic.

“These are just a sample of the countless instances where those in the LGBTQI+ community have been unjustly discriminated against because of their gender identity and expression, sexual orientation or whom they love,” reads the letter. “As the entire world focuses on trying to return to some normalcy, we must ensure those who have been marginalized are afforded the same opportunities and resources to resume their lives.”

Biden in February signed a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad. The congressmembers in their letter notes they “appreciate your long record of promoting LGBTQI+ rights around the world.”

“We hope that as the United States finalizes agreements for vaccine donations to countries, your administration will ensure that governments receiving vaccine doses from the United States will equitably distribute them to their residents regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” they conclude.

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Europe

Pope Francis says he is open to blessings for same-sex unions

Pontiff vehemently opposed marriage equality in native Argentina

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Pope Francis (Photo by palinchak via Bigstock)

Pope Francis has said he is open to the possibility that the Catholic Church would allow blessings for same-sex unions. 

The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith on Monday released a letter that Francis wrote to five cardinals who urged him to reaffirm church teaching on homosexuality ahead of this week’s Synod on Synodality, a meeting during which LGBTQ Catholics, women in the church and other issues will be discussed.  

Francis wrote the letter on July 11.

The Associated Press reported Francis said “such (same-sex) blessings could be studied if they didn’t confuse the blessing with sacramental marriage.”

“This new step, outlined in a document released on Oct. 2 by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, allows for pastoral ministers to administer such blessings on a case-by-case basis, advising that ‘pastoral prudence’ and ‘pastoral charity’ should guide any response to couples who request a blessing,” noted Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministrya Maryland-based organization that ministers to LGBTQ Catholics, on Monday in a press release. “It also indicates that permitting such blessings cannot be institutionalized by diocesan regulations, perhaps a reference to some dioceses in Germany where blessings are already taking place with official and explicit permission. ‘The life of the church,’ the pope writes, ‘runs through many channels in addition to the standard ones,’ indicating that respecting diverse and particular situations must take precedence over church law.”

DeBernardo in the same press release said the “allowance for pastoral ministers to bless same-gender couples implies that the church does indeed recognize that holy love can exist between same-gender couples, and the love of these couples mirrors the love of God.”

“Those recognitions, while not completely what LGBTQ+ Catholics would want, are an enormous advance towards fuller and more comprehensive equality,” he said. “This statement is one big straw towards breaking the camel’s back of the marginalized treatment LGBTQ+ people experience in the church.”

The Vatican’s tone towards LGBTQ and intersex issues has softened since Francis assumed the papacy in 2013.

Francis has publicly endorsed civil unions for same-sex couples, and has said laws that criminalize homosexuality are “unjust.” Church teachings on homosexuality and gender identity have nevertheless not changed under Francis’ papacy.

Francis earlier this year told a newspaper in his native Argentina that gender ideology as “one of the most dangerous ideological colonizations” because “it blurs differences and the value of men and women.” 

The pope was the archbishop of Buenos Aires when a law that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples in Argentina took effect in 2010. Francis was among those who vehemently opposed the marriage equality bill before then-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed it.

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Africa

Eswatini government refuses to allow LGBTQ rights group to legally register

Supreme Court previously ruled in favor of Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities

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Members of the Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities, an LGBTQ and intersex rights group, after the Eswatini Supreme Court on May 5, 2023, heard arguments in their case in support of legally registering in the country. (Photo courtesy of Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities)

The Eswatini Commerce, Industry and Trade Ministry this week said it will not allow an LGBTQ rights group to register.

The country’s Supreme Court in June ruled the government must allow Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities to register.

The Registrar of Companies in 2019 denied the group’s request. Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities the following year petitioned the Supreme Court to hear their case. The Supreme Court initially ruled against the group, but it appealed the decision.

“[The] Minister of Commerce and Trade refuses to register ESGM citing the ‘Roman Dutch Law,'” said Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities on Thursday in a tweet to its X account. “This was after the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the refusal to register ESGM by the registrar was unconstitutional.”

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Asia

Pakistan resumes issuing ID cards to transgender people

Federal Shariat Court in June ruled against trans rights law

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Kami Sid (Courtesy photo)

Pakistani authorities have resumed the registration of transgender people and issuing identity cards to them after the Supreme Court’s Sharia Appellate Bench on Sept. 25 ruled on the issue.

An Islamic court on June 13 ordered all data acquisition units to halt the registration of trans people and to issue identity cards only to males or females. 

The Supreme Court in 2009 extended civil rights to the trans community. Pakistani MPs in 2018 passed a historic law, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, that guaranteed all the rights available for all citizens to trans people, and prohibited any discrimination based on gender identity.

Jamiat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan and several other Pakistani religious political parties in 2022 raised objections to the law, stating it was un-Islamic. 

The Federal Shariat Court in May struck down three sections of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act and said Islamic teachings do not allow anyone to change their gender at their will. The court also said gender assigned at birth shall remain intact. 

The Islamic court’s June 13 verdict prohibited any new registration for an identity card with an X gender marker or update an older one. The National Database and Registration Authority after the ruling issued that halted the registration of trans people. Individuals in Pakistan need ID cards to open bank accounts, seek legal aid, report a crime to the police, ask for medical help and receive a passport. 

NADRA is an independent agency that regulates the government database and registration of sensitive information of citizens. The Federal Shariat Court is a constitutional Islamic court that scrutinizes and determines if laws made in Parliament comply with Sharia laws.

Nayyab Ali, a trans rights activist in Pakistan, during a telephone interview with the Washington Blade said the court’s voting bloc is based on religious elements. She also said right-wing political parties target trans Pakistanis when they do not get publicity.

“Right-wing political parties picked up the transgender issues in Parliament, and started hate speeches on transgender laws,” said Ali. “There is also a divide in the transgender community in Pakistan. Some transgender factions also support right-wing political parties to strengthen their agenda. People inside the government came from the grassroots level of society. Society has an extreme level of phobia and stigma for the transgender population, so when they come to power, they make policies that are against the transgender community.”

Ali told the Blade that former Prime Minister Imran Khan introduced an “Islamic utopia” in Pakistan and implemented an Islamization policy in his day-to-day politics, which created more hatred against trans community and affected society at large. 

Ali on X, formerly known as Twitter, praised the decision that allowed the resumption of issuing ID cards to trans people. Documents the Blade obtained indicate she is one of those who challenged the Federal Shariat Court’s decision.

Kami Sid, a trans activist and executive director of Sub Rang Society, a Pakistan-based LGBTQ rights organization, said the community is happy and quite hopeful for a better future.

“First we as a community were very much worried about the Federal Shariat Court’s decision,” said Sid. “But after several advocacy and meetings we are quite hopeful for the fight against the Federal Shariat Court decision, and now quite relaxed as a transgender activist, I must say the community is happy.”

Kami, like Ali, also challenged the Federal Shariat Court’s decision.

Kami told the Blade conservative parties over the last few years have become more willing to promote an agenda that opposes rights for women, children and trans people. 

“Transgender rights are human rights,” said Kami. “That is why the previous government refrained from commenting on the Shariah Court ruling out of fear of the right-wing parties and because transgender people are not a top priority.”

Kami said the Pakistani government has faced several obstacles this year regarding the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review.

Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani attended the annual UPR meeting in Geneva in January and received approximately 354 human rights-specific recommendations.

Iside Over, an online news website, reports Pakistan may not get an extension over the European Union’s Preferential Trade Arrangement over its failure to improve its human rights record, among other reasons. Kami told the Blade the Generalized System of Preference, or GSP, from the EU has put pressure on the Pakistani government to address human rights-specific issues.

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion. 

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