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Harris meets with LGBTQ activists in Vietnam

Roundtable with advocacy groups took place in Hanoi

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(Public domain photo)

Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday met with two LGBTQ rights activists in Vietnam.

Harris’ office said Chu Thanh Hà Ngoc, a transgender activist, and Đoàn Thanh Tùng, an LGBTQ advocate, participated in a “roundtable discussion with the vice president and Vietnamese social advocacy organizations” that took place at the U.S. Chief of Mission’s home in Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital.

“It is critical that if we are to take on the challenges we face that we do it in a way that is collaborative, that we must empower leaders in every sector, including of course government but community leaders, business leaders, civic society if we are to maximize the resources we collectively have,” said Harris. 

Harris specifically noted the Vietnamese Health Ministry “helped craft the draft — and draft — the (country’s) transgender rights law” that took effect in 2017.

“Transgender people deserve and need equal access to healthcare services,” she said. “This is an issue that we still face in the United States, and it is an issue here in Vietnam, I know.  And we will work together and support you and the work you are doing in that regard.”

Ann Marie Yastishock, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s mission director in Vietnam, moderated the roundtable.

It took place on the last day of Harris’ trip to Southeast Asia that began on Sunday in Singapore, one of the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. The trip also coincided with growing calls for the U.S. to evacuate LGBTQ Afghans from Afghanistan after the Taliban regained control of the country.

Ted Osius, who co-founded GLIFAA, an association of LGBTQ employees of Foreign Service agencies, was the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam from 2014-2017. The late-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2015 presided over the Hanoi ceremony during which Osius and his husband, Clayton Bond, renewed their wedding vows.

President Biden in February signed a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad.

Visibles Executive Director Daniel Villatoro and Ingrid Gamboa of the Association of Garifuna Women Living with HIV/AIDS were among the members of Guatemalan civil society who participated in a roundtable with Harris in June when she was in Guatemala City. USAID Administrator Samantha Power also met with LGBTQ activists in Guatemala and El Salvador when she was in the countries at around the same time.

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United Nations

UN Advocacy Week: A glimpse into global LGBTIQ+ challenges

Outright International this month brought 24 activists to New York

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

“What has the United Nations ever done for us?” Maybe not quite that bluntly, but at Outright International, we are often asked that question. LGBTIQ persons want to know what the world’s only truly universal global organization is doing for their lives and safety.

The profound and beautiful commitments of the United Nations that “all persons are born free and equal” and that “nobody should be left behind” should apply to all people, including LGBTIQ persons.

The sad reality is that LGBTIQ persons are actually neither free nor equal, and they are consistently left behind, either on purpose or by accident. LGBTIQ activists around the world work tirelessly to change the laws, policies, and society’s attitudes in homes and communities in the 193+ countries of the world.

They are supported by a global framework of law and standards at the United Nations that says, “you too are included, you too matter, you too are worthy.” Even when your country fails you, you can point to the United Nations to say that we all agreed that things should be better.

The clear inclusion of LGBTIQ persons in the international framework has not always been the case. It took decades of advocacy for the UN to say that we, too, are worthy of respect and protection simply because of who we are and whom we love. And now, powerful forces are at work trying to set the clock back, unraveling the promise of inclusion that we have fought for so hard.

We need to preserve and deepen the inclusivity of the international standards that hold our governments to account. And we need to keep reminding the United Nations of the realities that LGBTIQ persons face in all parts of the world.

At Outright International, one way we do this is each year by bringing LGBTIQ activists to the United Nations headquarters for a week of targeted meetings with various parts of the United Nations and the representatives of the world’s governments based here, guiding the setting of international standards. 

This year 24 activists from around the world came to NYC for Advocacy Week: Five trans activists, three intersex activists, four from the Middle East and North Africa; six working on lesbian, bisexual, and queer (LBQ) women issues; seven from countries in Africa where aggressive anti-LGBTIQ laws are being passed, three from countries with extreme repression of civil society; 17 from countries that criminalize us.

The week was filled with intense discussions, emotional storytelling, and strategic planning. Meeting activists from diverse backgrounds highlighted the global nature of the struggle for LGBTIQ rights. Each personal account of the lived experiences of LGBTIQ people underscores the universal quest for dignity and equality. The significance of this week cannot be overstated — it was a true beacon of hope, a testament to our shared commitment to advancing LGBTIQ rights worldwide. 

The week’s emotional impact was profound. Hearing activists recount their personal and shared experiences of discrimination, violence, and resilience was both heartbreaking and inspiring. These stories testify to the human spirit’s capacity to endure and fight against oppression. They remind us that behind every statistic, there are real people whose lives are affected by our collective actions.

Several key themes emerged during the week. One prominent discussion was the shrinking civic space for LGBTIQ advocacy. Activists from countries experiencing the influence of anti-rights actors on public policy shared harrowing accounts of how restrictive laws, violent attacks, and state-sponsored discrimination are impacting LGBTIQ communities. These stories highlighted the urgent need for international solidarity and robust advocacy to strengthen legal protections. 

Another critical theme was the role of the United Nations in addressing human rights issues. Activists emphasized the importance of UN institutions recognizing and affirming the rights of all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression and sex characteristics. Engaging directly with state missions allowed activists to advocate in person for inclusive policies and greater protections at the international level.

This year, activists representing the transgender community in the Philippines and the broader LGBTIQ+ community in the Bahamas participated in a panel discussion with Maria Sjödin, Outright’s executive director. The discussion focused on this year’s IDAHOBIT theme, “No One Left Behind: Equality, Freedom, And Justice For All.” The panelists shared the unique experiences of LBQ and transgender women and the impact of criminalizing legislation on societal acceptance of LGBTIQ+ persons in former colonies of the United Kingdom.

During a meeting with the UN Under Secretary General (USG) Guy Ryder and the UN Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ilze Brands-Kehris, the activists were also able to directly engage and share information on LGBTIQ+ community experiences of human rights violations and the threats to human rights defenders and their mobility of the movement. USG Ryder emphasized the importance of considering broader contexts of conflict influenced by pushbacks against human rights and civil liberties. The USG held that the United Nations remains deeply committed to protecting LGBTIQ persons from discrimination, as reflected in their message for IDAHOBIT. USG Ryder also mentioned that the upcoming UN Summit for the Future in September will see the adoption of a Pact for the Future, incorporating gender and human rights considerations. 

The voices of the activists were the heart of Advocacy Week. We were particularly moved by the story of a transgender woman from the Philippines who spoke about the dual struggle of facing both legal discrimination and societal stigma as a trans woman herself and a movement leader. Her courage in sharing her story was a powerful reminder of the personal stakes in our fight for equality. Similarly, an intersex activist highlighted the medical abuses faced by intersex individuals, including unnecessary surgeries and a lack of essential healthcare. These testimonies were not just stories of struggle; they were calls to action, urging us all to continue fighting for a world where everyone can live freely and safely.

The current global landscape for LGBTIQ individuals is fraught with challenges. At least 65 countries still have national laws that criminalize same-sex relations between consenting adults, and in 13 countries, transgender identity and expression are criminalized. Anti-gender and anti-human rights sentiments are on the rise in many parts of the world. These harsh realities underscore the importance of continued advocacy and learning about how we can impact LGBTIQ rights. Advocacy Week provided a critical platform for discussing strategies to counter these issues. 

We explored ways to strengthen international alliances, leverage diplomatic channels, and use collaborative strategies to amplify our message.

Individuals and communities can take several actionable steps to support LGBTIQ rights and contribute to positive change: Advocate for inclusive policies, educate and raise awareness, support LGBTIQ organizations, challenge discrimination, and engage politically by voting for and supporting political candidates who champion LGBTIQ rights. 

The path ahead requires persistent and unified action to ensure that the rights of every individual are recognized and protected. The work of organizations like Outright International and the dedication of LGBTIQ activists worldwide are crucial in driving this change, fostering a world where equality, freedom, and justice truly leave no one behind.

As we reflect on the outcomes of Advocacy Week, it is clear that the fight for LGBTIQ rights requires persistent and unified action. We urge readers to support LGBTIQ organizations, participate in advocacy efforts, and stand in solidarity with our global community. Your voice can make a difference in ensuring that everyone, regardless of their identity, is treated with dignity and respect.

At Outright International, these are the issues that we engage and highlight. Outright International is a founding member and current secretariat for the UN LGBTI Core group, an informal group comprising 42 member states, the delegation of the EU, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as Human Rights Watch, and Outright International. The Core Group is committed to advancing the rights of LGBTIQ persons through multilateral advocacy within the United Nations. 

Thiruna Naidoo (she/her) is Outright International’s program officer for Africa based in Pretoria, South Africa. They support the Outright Africa team in developing advocacy initiatives for OutRight’s Africa regional programming, with a focus on expanding Southern African programming. Previously, they have worked as a program officer, litigation coordinator, and co-project manager in the non-profit world.

André du Plessis (he/him) is Outright’s UN Program Director. André was ILGA World’s executive director from 2017 to 2021 before becoming an independent consultant on LGBTIQ human rights.  Born in Zambia, André is South African, Swiss, and British, and grew up in the UK and India before studying law at the University of Cambridge and UCL. He lives in New York, having moved to the US in 2023 to be with his husband. He enjoys hiking, cycling, trail running, reading, and cooking in his spare time.

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Canada

Canadian Pride events ban anti-transgender politicians

United Conservative Party officials pushing anti-trans measures in Alberta, Saskatchewan

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Edmonton Pride Festival at Churchill Square in 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Edmonton Pride Festival’s Facebook page)

Pride festivals in two of Canada’s most politically conservative provinces are putting their feet down and barring lawmakers who are pushing anti-transgender legislation from participating in Pride festivities this season.

This week, nine Pride festivals across Alberta — including those in the largest cities Calgary and Edmonton — put out a joint statement that they will “not allow the participation of the United Conservative Party (UCP) in our 2024 Pride celebrations.” The move came days after several Pride festivals in neighboring Saskatchewan announced they had barred the conservative Saskatchewan Party from participating in their parades.

Both provinces have recently passed or announced policies that would harm trans youth. 

Last year, Saskatchewan enacted a regulation that would require schools to out gender non-conforming children to their parents, and when the regulation was struck down by a court, the government enacted a law using the “notwithstanding” rule that allows governments to circumvent the federal Charter of Rights.

In January, Alberta’s conservative government announced it would bring forward legislation in the fall to ban gender confirming surgeries on minors, restrict hormone treatment for minors under 16, bar trans children from playing in gender-appropriate school sports, and require parental notification for students to use a preferred name or pronoun.

“This is a direct response to Premier Danielle Smith’s stated intention to infringe on the rights, freedoms, and healthcare of the transgender community in Alberta,” the statement put out by the Alberta Pride organizations reads. “You may not join our celebrations in June when you plan to attack us in September.” 

“Queer rights should not be a political decision. Trans rights are human rights. We invite Premier Smith to re-consider her harmful and damaging policies and engage in meaningful discussions with the Two Spirit, Trans, Nonbinary, and Queer community.”

Other Pride festivals barring the UCP from participating include festivals in Red Deer, Lethbridge, Banff, Canmore, Lacombe, Jasper, Fort Saskatchewan, and Okotoks. The statement was also joined by three queer service organizations.

“When queer people are being attacked by our government, we come together and get things done,” says James Demers, a community organizer with Queer Citizens United, the umbrella organization of Alberta Pride societies that put together the statement. 

Queen City Pride, which organizes the annual Pride festival in Saskatchewan’s capital of Regina, was the first city to announce that it would not allow the Saskatchewan Party to participate in its events.

“We decided as a board that we might have to put some distance between us and the Saskatchewan Party. We were very hopeful that they would change course, but they’ve gone against our Charter of Rights. We’re not ok with this, and they’re not backing down,” says Queen City Pride Co-Executive Director Riviera Bonneau.

The Saskatchewan Party has participated in the Queen City Pride in the past, with Premier Scott Moe even marching in the parade in 2019. At the time, he told CTV News he believed it was the “right thing for a premier to do.

“The thing that triggered our announcement was that the Saskatchewan Party had put forward a registration to participate in our parade,” Bonneau says. “I don’t know why they’d want to participate, but they did try.”

Bonneau says she communicated with other Pride festivals in the province before announcing the decision publicly, as she didn’t want to pressure other festivals to make the same decision. In the event, Pride festivals in Prince Albert, Moose Jaw, Swift Current, and the Battlefords announced that they would not allow the Saskatchewan Party to participate, while a spokesperson for Saskatoon Pride told CBC that it would carefully vet any application to participate, and the Party would be unlikely to be accepted.

While the federal Conservative Party has offered support for the anti-trans policies announced by both provinces, Bonneau says her organization has not banned the federal party yet for a simple reason: it hasn’t applied to participate. 

But Demers says his group’s stance is that the federal Conservatives are not welcome at the member festivals either.

“They’re not any nicer to us than the UCP are. I think the consequence extends to them as well,” he says.

Demers says that the federal Conservative Party often applies to participate in Alberta’s Pride festivals, but is typically rejected.

“We have an application process for all of our Prides, and they never pass the process. They’ll typically hold a barbeque somewhere and call it a Pride event, but they have not been invited,” Demers says. “We’ve now formally disinvited them. We would not like them to show up and pretend that they care about us as their constituents. It’s us making it clear that they are not welcome.”

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South America

La Pesada Subversiva battles anti-LGBTQ digital violence in Bolivia

Santa Cruz-based collective is trans, feminist, and sexually diverse

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Members of La Pesada Subversiva in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. (Photo courtesy of La Pesada Subversiva)

In Bolivia, the collective La Pesada Subversiva faced an onslaught of digital violence they could have never imagined after showcasing their LGBTQ artwork. Thanks to Hivos’ Digital Defenders Partnership, they received critical support and training to protect themselves, and now have tools to fight against online aggression.

La Pesada Subversiva (The Subversive Troublemakers), a trans, feminist, and sexually diverse collective in Bolivia, has emerged as a form of resistance to patriarchy and gender-based violence. Founded in 2018 in Santa Cruz, one of Bolivia’s most conservative regions, the collective uses various art forms — audiovisual, writing, street happenings, and social media content — to express their views in demonstrations, protests, and the virtual realm.

Cristian Egüez (he/him), one of the founders, explains, “In this region, far-right and ultra-religious narratives are prevalent, pushed by very conservative authorities. In such a tough context, collectives are needed with the courage to confront them and maintain a critical approach to the violence that occurs.” 

Pride Month and ensuing violence

The Altillo Benni Museum, the largest in the city, commemorated Pride Month for the first time on June 1, 2022. They opened an LGBTQ art exhibition called “Revolución Orgullo” or “Pride Revolution” led by La Pesada Subversiva. The collective’s groundbreaking LGBTQ art exhibition faced vehement opposition.

“We adorned the museum facade with trans and LGBTIQ+ flags,” Egüez recounts, “but it lasted less than a day because a group of neighbors came to protest violently and aggressively.” 

Despite this, the exhibition attracted over 400 visitors, demonstrating growing public support for their cause. 

Confronting online harassment

To the collective’s surprise, the museum’s director defended the exhibition, stating that no artwork would be removed, and the exhibition would remain until the end of the month. But then an unimaginable wave of digital violence hit them. Egüez recalls the aftermath: “The event left us emotionally devastated. Throughout that year, every day, we had to endure threats and harassment online.” 

Alejandra Menacho (she/her), another founder of La Pesada Subversiva, shares her experience, saying, “They threatened to rape me, to teach me how to be a woman. It overwhelmed us; it started to really hurt because we felt … everything we said or did was being surveilled.” The collective faced constant harassment on social media, with anti-rights groups monitoring their activities and scaring them with false threats.

Seeking protection from the Digital Defenders Partnership

As the onslaught escalated, the collective sought refuge and support. They applied for a grant from the DDP to get digital protection and security. With DDP’s assistance, they underwent comprehensive training in digital security measures, enabling them to protect their online presence effectively. The members learned to protect themselves and their accounts, not to publish certain things, and to be cautious about disclosing their whereabouts. DDP’s training gave them a comprehensive understanding of digital security tools and provided clear guidelines for dealing with future incidents and how to report them. 

In addition to these digital security skills, they learned physical self-defense techniques, blending martial arts with a feminist approach. 

“This has strengthened us immensely. Now we understand digital security holistically and are always safeguarding our networks,” Menacho emphasizes. 

Members of La Pesada Subversiva in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. (Photo courtesy of La Pesada Subversiva)

The ongoing struggle of online resilience

Despite the challenges, La Pesada Subversiva remains steadfast in their mission. 

“Digital security must be integrated across the board; it’s not something you attend a workshop for and forget. It must be practiced continually,” Egüez asserts. 

For Menacho, even though she has experienced a lot of frustration and anger, learning to combine these digital tools with psychology and art has helped her express themselves and achieve emotional balance. 

“Because we are rebellious, we want to do these things. Also, because we don’t want these injustices to continue in Santa Cruz. That’s why we keep coming back and reinventing ourselves,” Menacho said. 

La Pesada Subversiva’s journey exemplifies the resilience and determination of marginalized communities in the face of adversity. Through collective empowerment and solidarity, they navigate the complexities of digital violence, emerging stronger and more united in their pursuit of equality and justice. 

The Digital Defenders Partnership (DDP), managed by Hivos, is an emergency grant mechanism for digital activists under threat launched by the Freedom Online Coalition in 2012. It provides a holistic response to digital threats and creates resilient and sustainable networks of support to human rights defenders.

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