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Boris Johnson’s LGBTQ rights advisor visits D.C.

Nick Herbert praises efforts to evacuate LGBTQ Afghans

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Nick Herbert, a member of the British House of Lords who advises Prime Minister Boris Johnson on LGBTQ issues, speaks at the Victory Institute's 2021 International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s advisor on LGBTQ issues last week applauded his government’s efforts to help facilitate the successful evacuation of LGBTQ Afghans from the country.

“I’m very proud of the tremendous work that’s been done by the U.K. government,” Nick Herbert, a member of the British House of Lords, told the Washington Blade on Dec. 1 during an interview in D.C. “The U.K. has shown global leadership here.”

A group of 29 LGBTQ Afghans who Stonewall, Rainbow Railroad and Micro Rainbow evacuated from Afghanistan with the help of the British government arrived in the U.K. on Oct. 29. Herbert on Nov. 6 announced a second group of LGBTQ Afghans had reached the country.

“It took … a strong effort with different parts of government working together and the determination that this was really important and that people’s safety was at risk and also that we have a moral obligation to the communities affected,” said Herbert.

The Taliban entered Kabul, the Afghan capital, on Aug. 15 and regained control of the country.

A Taliban judge has said the group would once again execute people if it were to return to power in Afghanistan. Rainbow Railroad and Taylor Hirschberg, a researcher at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health who is also a Hearst Foundation scholar, and others have been working to help evacuate LGBTQ Afghans from the country.

Advocacy groups continue to urge the Biden administration to do more to help LGBTQ Afghans who remain in Afghanistan.

Herbert noted the British government has committed to grant asylum to 10,000 Afghans under the country’s “Operation Warm Welcome” that seeks “to ensure the Afghans who stood side by side with us in conflict, their families and those at highest risk who have been evacuated, are supported as they now rebuild their lives in the U.K.” Herbert stressed this program will “prioritize” LGBTQ people and other at-risk groups in Afghanistan.

“This shows the power of working together and governments working in partnership with NGOs to achieve something,” he told the Blade. “I fully recognize there were lots of citizens who remained in Afghanistan, and so nevertheless, I think it was very heartening to see that those Afghan citizens who are most at risk were brought to the center.”

Herbert said he expects more LGBTQ Afghans will be “brought to safety,” but he declined to provide a specific number.

Johnson raised LGBTQ rights crackdown with Hungarian prime minister

Herbert spoke with the Blade before he participated in the Victory Institute’s International LGBTQ Leaders Conference that took place in-person at the JW Marriott in D.C. from Dec. 2-4.

Johnson in May appointed Herbert as his LGBTQ rights advisor.

Herbert is the first person who officially advises a British prime minister on LGBTQ issues. The former House of Commons member also co-founded the Global Equality Caucus, a group of LGBTQ elected officials around the world who work to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Herbert throughout the interview noted his government continues to champion LGBTQ rights.

The British government on World AIDS Day pledged more than £23 million ($30.5 million) in additional funding to efforts that seek to “achieve zero new HIV infections, AIDS and HIV related deaths in England” by 2030. The British government also announced it would move to allow people with HIV/AIDS to serve in the country’s armed forces.

“It’s a legacy discriminatory policy that has no basis in sound science any longer,” said Herbert, referring to the policy against people with HIV/AIDS in the British military. “It’s entirely safe for people to serve, and we think they should be free to do so.”

A public comment period on a bill that would ban so-called conversion therapy in England and Wales is underway.  Herbert also expressed concern over the increasing backlash over efforts to expand rights to transgender people in the U.K.

“I’m troubled by the debate,” he said. “I recognize that … this is a that a complicated issue where you have an assertion of conflicting rights. But I don’t think it’s acceptable to see some of the sort of angry exchanges of language that has been seen over the course of the last few months.”

“It’s very damaging,” added Herbert.

Herbert noted to the Blade that Johnson rose Hungary’s anti-LGBTQ crackdown with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán when the two men met in May in London. Herbert also highlighted the British government in June will host a global LGBTQ rights conference that will coincide with London Pride’s 50th anniversary.

“The prime minister, by the way, has always been very ready to raise these issues, both when foreign secretary and now as prime minister, which is why I think he wants to hold this conference on the agenda,” said Herbert.

“We have to stand together with other countries to express our concern about what is happening,” he added. “We also must take a strong stance against culture wars, and I think governments joining in culture wars results in harm to citizens.”

U.K. has ‘historic responsibility’ for anti-LGBTQ laws in former colonies

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in dozens of countries around the world, and many of them are former British colonies.

Then-Prime Minister Theresa May in 2018 said she “deeply” regrets colonial-era criminalization laws the U.K. introduced. Herbert spoke with the Blade two days after the Botswana Court of Appeals upheld a 2019 ruling that decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country.

“We want to work with our partners in encouraging countries to try to change those laws,” Herbert told the Blade.

He stressed the British government has “to guard against any idea that we’re being so neocolonial,” while adding the U.K. has a “historic responsibility for these laws and their legacy.”

“The position we approach (with) this is one of respect where we, along with other countries, are encouraging decriminalization,” said Herbert. “We want to work with countries that will work with us to support them in that journey. We have to recognize that all countries have been on a journey.”

Herbert noted to the Blade that homosexuality was criminalized in the U.K. when he was born.

“We need to remember that other countries are different points of the journey, but it doesn’t all happen at once. And they have to make their own decisions on this and we have to encourage them to support them to do so,” he said. “I don’t think that this is a case of Britain lecturing, certainly not a case of dictating. It’s a question of encouraging.”

Herbert also questioned the use of sanctions against countries that enact anti-LGBTQ laws.

The British government late last year sanctioned three Chechen officials who are responsible for the anti-LGBTQ crackdown in the semi-autonomous Russian republic that continues. Herbert described these sanctions as “justified,” but said the British government has “to be careful of blunt instruments that may backfire.”

“There can be different ways to make our feelings known and to encourage countries to do the right thing,” he said.

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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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Africa

TikTok in talks with Kenyan government to stop LGBTQ-specific content

Official says ‘draft framework’ will be ready by end of this month

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(Public domain photo)

TikTok is the latest global digital video platform to enter talks with the Kenyan government to stop access to LGBTQ-specific videos and other content prohibited under the country’s laws.  

TikTok, a popular short-form mobile video-streaming platform, is currently in joint talks with government officials to develop a framework for censoring such content classified under the “restricted category.”  

“A draft framework of the content regulation is being worked on by a joint team and it will be ready by the end of this month. The larger regulatory framework will address specific content like LGBTQ, explicit and terrorism materials shared on TikTok,” an official who is familiar with the discussions told the Washington Blade.

The joint team is compelled to develop the framework to regulate TikTok users who enjoy full control of videos they share on the platform without the service providers’ prior approval, unlike Netflix and other movie streaming platforms that readily classify content for users.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations are criminalized under Section 165 of Kenya’s penal code.     

The move to regulate TikTok content arises from a petitioner who wrote to the National Assembly last month demanding the country ban the social media platform for promoting what he deemed harmful and inappropriate content. 

The petitioner, Bob Ndolo, an executive officer for Briget Connect Consultancy, cited violence, explicit sexual videos, hate speech, vulgar language and offensive behavior as content with a “serious threat to cultural and religious values of Kenya” shared on TikTok. 

The petition ignited an uproar among Kenyans, particularly TikTok users who make a living from their videos through monetization. 

They asked the government not to ban the platform, but instead enact a regulatory framework to stop inappropriate content. This request prompted President William Ruto and several senior government officials to convene a virtual meeting with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew on Aug. 24 over content regulation under Kenya’s guidelines and monetization.  

Chew during the meeting committed to “moderate content to fit community standards” by removing inappropriate or offensive content from TikTok and pledged to set up an office in Nairobi to serve the African continent.   

The virtual meeting was followed by another physical one at State House between Ruto and TikTok Africa Director Fortune Sibanda on Sept. 2, where it was announced that the social platform is set to launch a national training program to empower its users on creating and promoting so-called positive content. 

TikTok has already stopped monetization for users sharing inappropriate or restricted content and deactivated their accounts as efforts to draft the regulatory work continue.

“A joint artificial intelligence tool is being used in the meantime to detect offensive content for removal and the accounts brought down,” stated the official. “It has significantly reduced inappropriate content for the last few weeks since Kenya and TikTok started engaging.”

The latest Reuters Institute Digital News Report released in June revealed that Kenya leads the world in TikTok usage with an astounding 54 percent share of global consumption. Thailand and South Africa follow with 51 percent and 50 percent respectively.   

The Kenya Film Classification Board, the country’s film regulator, signed an agreement with Netflix in February this year to stop the streaming of LGBTQ-specific movies. The regulatory body is part of the ongoing talks with TikTok. 

The KFCB is also yet to finalize its talks with Showmax and two local video-on-demand platforms to stop the streaming of LGBTQ-specific movies.    

The regulatory body derives its powers from the Films and Stage Act that regulates the exhibition, distribution, possession or broadcasting of content to the public. 

The ever-changing digital technologies that include TikTok and other social media platforms have prompted the KFCB to reconsider its regulatory framework by coming up with new measures. 

One such proposal, dubbed the Kenya Film Bill, would empower the KFCB to classify and regulate content in this digital era to stop ones that go against government-mandated standards. 

The Information, Communication and Technology Ministry last week appointed a special team to look into existing laws and recommend policy and regulatory framework for the digital platforms. The ministry’s senior officials, including Assistant Minister John Tanui, are also taking part in the talks with TikTok.

The ministry’s newly unveiled panel will also ask whether the Kenya Film Bill can be enacted independently or combined with new legislative proposals.  

The regulation of TikTok content in Kenya comes amid the anticipated introduction of the Family Protection Bill in the National Assembly that would criminalize any form of promotion of LGBTQ activities with harsh punishment of at least 10 years in jail or not less than a $67,000 fine or both.     

TikTok in April 2022 suspended the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ rights group in the U.S., for a couple of days after it included the word “gay” in a reel against Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law. The company determined the post violated “community guidelines.”

A British lawmaker criticized TikTok in September 2019 over reports that it censored LGBTQ-specific content, such as two men kissing or holding hands, and artificially prevented LGBTQ users’ posts from going viral in some countries.

Theo Bertram, TikTok’s director of public policy in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, apologized to the British parliamentary committee and confirmed the company only removes such LGBTQ-specific content if law enforcement agencies in countries of operation request it.

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