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Fighting for LGBTQ rights in the Global South

Activists in Thailand and Lebanon forge ahead



Asian Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM) staffers in Bangkok. (Photo courtesy of APCOM)

The Global South presents unique challenges for LGBTQ activists and advocacy groups.

The Human Rights Campaign notes 29 countries have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples, and the majority of them are located in the Global North that comprises more developed countries in the Americas and Europe. Less than a handful of these countries — such as South Africa and Brazil — are in the Global South. Countries in the Global North, as a result, are more likely to harbor LGBTQ-friendly public sentiments compared to the Global South, which is rife with restrictive anti-LGBTQ laws.

This reality not only makes life tumultuous for both openly and closeted queer individuals in the Global South, the chances of encountering LGBTQ-friendly sentiments in these regions are also close to non-existent. Ensuring the fundamental human rights of the queer people who live in these regions are guaranteed is imperative for activists.

The Washington Blade recently spoke with activists from Thailand and Lebanon about their advocacy work and also how they celebrated Pride in countries where LGBTQ identity is not widely acknowledged. 


Midnight Poonkasetwattana is the executive director of the Asian Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM), a non-profit organization located in Bangkok. The organization’s work centers on addressing sexual health-related issues by collecting data on gay men and men who have sex with men in 35 countries across Asia and the Pacific. 

“What we do in general is empowering communities on the ground to be able to speak their truth, and also participate meaningfully in country, regional, and global fora so they can have their voices and actually articulate what is it the needs of communities on the ground are,” says Poonkasetwattana. 

APCOM, by giving these communities the ability to articulate their concerns, creates and facilitates an environment where LGBTQ people’s sexual and mental health needs are met, even though discrimination remains a barrier to accessing these services.

APCOM’s work does not come without its challenges because of the prevalence of anti-LGBTQ laws in many Asian countries. Their work, however, usually continues undeterred because of their ability to work with local community organizations in the public health sector. 

“There are some opportunities to work under public health, and we’ve been able to do that in certain places [like Afghanistan] where it’s still difficult to talk about equality,” says Poonkasetwattana. “When we talk about ensuring that those who are marginalized and most at risk to [contract] HIV are able to get prevention and treatment, [we focus on working] with community-based organizations.” 

APCOM, as a result, has been able to facilitate important conversations around HIV/AIDS, with the specific information about the use of necessary and appropriate language in web programming that recognizes people’s different sexual identities and encourages direct conversations around drug use and sex work. 

Asian Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM) staffers in Bangkok. (Photo courtesy of APCOM)

APCOM, in order to commemorate Asia’s LGBTQ community’s tenacity, began Pride month with a virtual discussion that the Australian Embassy in Thailand sponsored. The event, titled “Celebrating Pride Month 2021: LGBTQI Inclusion and the Effect of COVID-19,” had two sessions. 

The first session, “Voices from Thai LGBTQI: Launch of Khormoon Report,” discussed COVID-19’s impact in Thailand. The second, “COVID-19 Recovery and LGBTQI Inclusion: A Perspective from the Business Sector,” focused on how Thailand’s business sector practiced inclusion and how it will further propel LGBTQ advocacy.

As APCOM prepares to ease back into normalcy as the pandemic wanes, Poonkasetwattana will begin to prepare for the organization’s HERO Awards (HIV, Equality and Rights), a fundraising gala that honors outstanding LGBTQ activists, HIV/AIDS service providers and allies from across Asia and the Pacific and also raises money for the HIV prevention and human rights work of APCOM. 


Helem, whose executive director is Tarek Zeidan, is an LGBTQ advocacy organization in Beirut, Lebanon. Founded in 2001, this non-governmental entity works to improve the legal and social status of LGTBQ people in the Middle East and North Africa.

Lebanon is what Zeidan describes as a slightly safer place for queer people. Lebanon, compared to Egypt and Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East, has emerged as a more inclusive and liberal place despite it being anything but a safe haven for queer people.

“When it comes to LGBTQ rights, Lebanon packs a punch way above its weight,” says Zeidan. “Because, in a region which is notorious for LGBTQ rights violations, Lebanon has enjoyed, and here I use the word enjoy very loosely,  a relatively safer and more inclusive sort of experience.”

Helem Executive Director Tarek Zeidan (Photo courtesy of Tarek Zeidan)

Helem in its many incarnations throughout its 21-year history has always had one main goal: React to whatever priorities and needs that queer people in the Middle East have. 

Helem is structurally divided into three parts.

The first is the services department which does a lot of work to protect and assist LGBTQ people in crisis.

“We [offer] emergency intervention, case management, emergency cash, free mental health support, free medical aid, everything,” says Zeidan. “Food security [also] acts primarily as the hub in which we gather a lot of data, particularly data on the locale, density, and type of human rights violations, as well as demographic information.”

The second part of the organization is its community department. 

Helem runs the largest non-commercial queer space in the Arab world that serves as a community center. This space is where the Zeidan guides localization work, community building, power building work, capacity building and vocational training.

“That’s where we do our family support, youth outreach, and all of that sort of community building and integration time work,” says Zeidan.

The final leg is the advocacy part or “bureau” that anchors on policy work, procedure, cultural change, public awareness, and legislation. Helem’s advocacy work also focuses on criminalization that Zeidan describes as “getting more attention,” even though it is not a central focus.

“In addition, criminalization, which is something we always do gets a lot of attention, but it’s really not the central thing that we engage with,” says Zeidan. “There are multiple ways in which you can guarantee LGBTQ rights and inclusion that don’t necessarily pass through Parliament, or the Supreme Court, especially when those two are blocked. So in a nutshell, the central question that we ask is, what can we do in order to improve institutions to become LGBTQ inclusive? How do we improve the lives of LGBTQ people?”

Zeidan further mentions that this strategy makes way for avenues that are not necessarily within the traditional human rights view by extracting opportunities from both development and human rights frameworks.

When tackling the lack of employment within Arab LGBTQ communities, for example, Helem doesn’t approach corporations that are more likely to be LGBTQ-inclusive. It instead identifies the industries that target LGBTQ people.

“We are more interested in targeting small and medium enterprises as locales for employment rather than big banks, because that’s where most of the working class and low income queer people are, and that’s where they get most of their livelihoods,” says Zeidan.

Zeidan says he anticipates even more engagement with LGBTQ activism in the Middle East in the future.

“We’re really excited about deciphering the question: What does regional activism really look like in the Middle East,” says Zeidan. “This is a very complicated question.”

The massive explosion that destroyed large swaths of Beirut, Lebanon, on Aug. 4, 2020, seriously damaged Helem’s offices. (Photo courtesy of Tarek Zeidan/Helem)

He further mentions this goal is complicated because the Middle East does not have a regional organization to which they can turn for advocacy. Africa, for example, has the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, but the Middle East does not have such a body.

Helem’s modus operandi will therefore be engorged in trying to make sense of how to best liberate queer Arabs. 

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Polish House passes bill echoing Russia “gay propaganda” law

Measure passed on Jan. 13 by 227-214 vote margin.



The Polish parliament's lower House, the Sejm (Screenshot via Polish government Sejm RP YouTube)

A measure that would give school administrators and superintendents the power to remove books, lessons, and ban student participation in events or clubs that are LGBTQ affirming passed the lower house of Poland’s parliament, known as the Sejm, on Jan. 13 in a 227-214 vote.

The measure, dubbed “Lex Czarnek,” or “Czarnek’s Law,” after Education Minister Przemysław Czarnek,  who has been vehemently opposed to the LGBTQ rights and the country’s equality movement, now moves on to the upper house, the Senate where it faces opposition and likely will be rejected Polish broadcast media outlet RMF 24 reported.

According to RMF24, “The Sejm adopted the amendment to the Educational Law, prepared by the Ministry of Education and Science. The project is commonly known as ‘Lex Czarnek.’ The role of school superintendents will be strengthened, and the rules governing the functioning of non-governmental organizations in schools and educational institutions will be changed.”

Opposition to LGBTQ rights has an ally in the education minister whose role would determine the outcome of implementation of the measure:

“Pursuant to the amendment, the headmaster of the school or facility will be required — no later than two months before the commencement of classes conducted by associations or organizations —to obtain detailed information about the action plan in the school, the outline of classes and materials used in the offered classes, as well as obtain a positive the opinion of the education superintendent for the activities of such an organization at school or in an institution. The curator has 30 days to issue an opinion.”

The law also contains a stipulation that “if the head of the school or educational institution fails to comply with the recommendations issued by the school superintendent, he will be able to summon him to explain why he did not do so. If the principal still does not follow the recommendations, the probation officer may apply to the governing body of the school or facility with a request to dismiss the principal during the school year, without notice.”

A member of the Sejm, Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-Bąk, a progressive leftist politician who in addition to protesting against abortion laws, has also been active in protests for LGBTQ rights, tweeted her outrage; “The voice of the curator Nowak, as if it were not stupid and dangerous to health and life, is more important for PiS deputies than the voice of students, parents and teachers.”

The MP and Czarnek, target of Dziemianowicz-Bąk’s anger, has staked out several public vitriolic anti-LGBTQ positions that has included an attack on the LGBTQ community in West Hollywood.

Speaking with a reporter on Serwis Info Poranek with the national state-run TVP Info (TVP3 Polska) last June, the newly appointed education minister said (translated from Polish):

“Let’s end the discussion about these LGBT abominations, homosexuality, bisexuality, parades of equality. Let us defend the family, because failure to defend the family leads to what you see.

As he spoke these words, he was holding a phone in his hand, on the display of which he showed a picture of several people.

“These are the Los Angeles guys in downtown last June. I was on a delegation there, I was passing through, there was a so-called gay pride parade there,” he added. “We are at an earlier stage, there are no such things with us yet, but such chaps shamelessly (sic.) Walk the streets of the western city of Los Angeles,” he added.

Przemysław Czarnek (Screenshot via Serwis Info Poranek)

Serwis Info Poranek also noted that according to Czarnek, “Europe is also heading for this, Poland is heading for this … These people are not equal to normal people, let’s end this discussion.”

During the ongoing battles over the so-called LGBTQ “Free Zones” with the European Commission Czarnek weighed in comparing the LGBTQ community to the Nazis.

“There’s no doubt, that LGBT+ ideology grew out of … the same root as Germany’s Hitlerian National Socialism, which was responsible for all the evil of World War II,” Czarnek said as PinkNewsUK reported.

Renew Europe, the liberal, pro-European political group of the European Parliament tweeted its outrage over the actions by the Sejm:

Observers think that the law will be rejected by the senate although under the Polish constitution there is still a possibility it could be signed off on by the anti-LGBTQ Polish President Andzej Duda.

PinkNewsUK reports:

“Although it seems that Lex Czarnek is on track to becoming law, Rémy Bonny, executive director of pan-EU LGBT+ rights organisation Forbidden Colours, insists that all is not lost.

With pressure from politicians both in the EU and around the world, Poland could be forced to backtrack.

He told PinkNewsUK that “in September, after threats by the European Commission to take away funding, four out five provinces that declared themselves ‘LGBT+ free zones’ withdrew their anti-LGBT+ resolutions … International pressure on Poland works.”

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Murdered Honduran transgender activist buried

Thalía Rodríguez shot outside her home on Monday



The funeral of Thalía Rodríguez in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Jan. 11, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Reportar sin Miedo)

The Washington Blade on Thursday published a Spanish-language version of this story from Reportar sin Miedo, the Blade’s media partner in Honduras.

A prominent transgender activist in Honduras who was murdered on Monday has been buried.

Reportar sin Miedo reported activists are among those who attended Thalía Rodríguez’s funeral that took place in Tegucigalpa, the country’s capital, on Tuesday.

Rodríguez led Asociación Cozumel Trans, a Honduran trans rights group.

The U.S. Embassy in Honduras, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras and the U.N. Refugee Agency have all condemned Rodríguez’s murder. U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power in a tweet said she was “horrified” by the murders of Rodríguez and Pablo Hernández, a leader in Honduras’ indigenous Lenca community who was killed on Sunday near San Marcos de Caiquín, a municipality in the country’s Lempira department, while he was on his way to church.

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France, Greece to end restrictions for MSM blood donors

Calls for U.S. to remove abstinence requirement grow



gay blood ban, gay news, Washington Blade
(Bigstock photo)

France and Greece this week announced they will allow gay and bisexual men to donate blood without restrictions.

Têtu, a French LGBTQ magazine, noted men who have sex with men previously had to remain abstinent for four months before they could donate blood in France.

French Health Minister Olivier Véran on Tuesday announced this requirement would no longer be in place as of March 16. Têtu also noted officials will no longer ask potential blood donors about their sexual orientation.

“It’s a whole new relationship with the blood donor that we want,” said Véran.

Greece on Monday also said it would allow MSM to donate blood without restrictions.

Greek Health Minister Thanos Plevris and Deputy Health Minister Mina Gaga issued a decree that will become official once the Government Gazette publishes it.

Greece and France are the latest countries to lift restrictions for MSM who want to donate blood.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration currently allows MSM to donate blood if they have not had sex with another man for three months.

The American Red Cross this week declared a blood crisis because of the surge in COVID-19 omicron variant cases. The declaration sparked renewed calls for the U.S. to allow MSM to donate blood without restrictions.

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