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Indian government withdraws teacher manual for transgender students

Conservative lawmakers, right-wing activists criticized document

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(Screen capture via YouTube)

The Indian government has withdrawn a manual to train and sensitize teachers in schools and colleges on transgender or gender non-conforming students after conservative lawmakers criticized it.

The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), an autonomous organization of the Indian government to assist and advise the central and state governments on policies and programs for qualitative improvement in school education, last month released a training manual for teachers on the inclusion of trans students in school. After it was released, the manual ran into controversy and faced resistance from the right-wing activists. Soon, the NCERT pulled the manual from its website, causing resentment among the trans and Indian LGBTQ community.

“When the news came out that NCERT is taking this step to make schools a safe place for the LGBTQ community in India, I felt so amazing and proud and was happy,” said Yahnvi Kallani, a 14-year-old student from Agra in Uttar Pradesh.

“It was the day after the news that they took it down because some minister questioned them, and they had to take this whole thing down, which disappointed and annoyed me,” Kallani added .

Back in 2014, Indian Supreme Court recognized trans people as the third gender and said that it is the right of every human being to choose their gender.

Based on the Supreme Court’s judgment, the Indian government passed legislation in 2019, called the Transgender Persons Act. The NCERT acted upon this legislation and decided to formulate an instructing manual titled “Inclusion of Transgender Children in School Education: Concerns and Roadmap”, which was targeted to educate and sensitize teachers and students about different genders.

The manual highlights strategies to make schools sensitive and inclusive towards trans and gender non-conforming students. It also includes the provision for gender-neutral bathrooms and uniforms, and sensitizing of non-teaching staff of schools was also included in it. The manual advocated discontinuing the practice of segregation of students into various school activities based on gender. The manual included inviting trans people to speak on the school campus.

Soon after the release of the manual, Vinay Joshi, an RSS member (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, right-wing Hindu nationalist group), filed a complaint against the NCERT to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).

Joshi claimed that the manual is a “criminal conspiracy to traumatize students in the name of gender sensitization” and the NCPCR should take appropriate action against those who are responsible for it. The NCERT took down the manual from its website without any delay.

“The manual wasn’t for children, but teachers,” said Dr. L. Ramakrishnan, a public health professional and vice president of SAATHII.

Ramakrishnan was one of the members who contributed to creating the manual for the NCERT.

“We do not know if the manual is completely scraped or it will come out with some revisions,” added Ramakrishnan.

After multiple requests for comment to the director of the NCERT, Dr. Sridhar Srivastava, he remained silent. It must be noted that after the complaint was filed to the NCERT on the manual issue, two NCERT employees who were also involved in designing the manual were transferred to other departments.

“We are not happy about this, and we are still introspecting various ways in which we can still make it work,” said Mr. Rishu, a representative of Harmless Hugs, a platform that provides safe space for the LGBTQ community in India.

School students from across the country gave their reactions to the Washington Blade.

Priya Verma, 16, from New Delhi, the Indian capital, said that she is not happy with the NCERT’s decision.

“It is an important issue, people and classmates should know about this,” said Verma, a 10th grade student.

“When NCERT came up with this manual, many of the transgender students had hoped for a change. Pulling out the manual shows the selfishness of the organization,” she added.

Yahnvi Kallani, a 14-year-old student from Agra, said when she read the manual, she was happy that the school would have a gender-neutral uniform. But since the manual is gone, she feels uncomfortable as she identifies herself as non-binary.

Muskan Vishwakarma, a freshman from the Gujarat state expressed her disappointment on the NCERT’s decision.

She said people in India lack awareness about the trans community. Vishwakarma said people think it’s a sickness while it is not. To fix this problem, she said the government has to educate people, and it can happen through the schools.

Since the NCERT has pulled out the manual, she said the problem will remain untouched.

“Whatever happened, it was not up to good,” said Vishwakarma. “In classrooms, kids do not understand these things, and they end up bullying kids who look different or act different from them.”

Recently, 43 LGBTQ groups from different institutes in India and 700 people from across the country have signed a letter to the NCERT and demanded to bring back the manual on the NCERT’s website as soon as possible. The letter has also been addressed to the chair, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Women and Child Development for necessary retrospection and actions, and the National Council for Transgender Persons (NCTP).

While many showed disappointment, some also expressed their hope with the NCERT. 

Manvendra Singh Gohil, an Indian prince who is the first openly gay prince in the world, spoke with the Blade about the issue.

“NCERT’s manual might be pulled out, but I am sure in days to come, it will be considered, and inclusion will be there,” said Gohil.

“We need to educate the political parties and the leaders, we also need to sensitize the parties no matter left or right,” he further added.

Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil (Photo courtesy of Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil)

Mumbai-based Tinesh Chopad, an advocacy manager at the Humsafar Trust, said the NCERT is a larger body, and it has a much larger reach in the country, if the manual can be retained again, it would be a good step.

“Most of the trans individuals face stigma and bullying at the school level as well,” said Chopad. “It was one step toward avoiding the bullying and discrimination trans folks face daily.”

Mohit Kumar (Ankush)  is a freelance reporter who has covered different stories that include the 2020 election in the U.S. and women’s rights issues. He has also covered NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency and loves to help people. Mohit is on Twitter at @MohitKopinion and can be reached at [email protected].

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European Union

100+ confirmed cases of monkeypox in 12 countries & spreading

A notable proportion of cases in the UK and across Europe have been found in gay & bisexual men health officials say

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President Joe Biden talks to reporters on Monkeypox as he leaves South Korea (Screen capture via CNN)

Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, the Regional Director of Europe for the World Health Organization (WHO) is warning that confirmed cases of monkeypox, which is most often seen in West and Central Africa, has escalated in Europe and elsewhere globally.

The United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Italy and Sweden – as well as the U.S., Canada and Australia are all reporting cases.

“The situation is evolving and WHO expects there will be more cases of monkeypox identified as surveillance expands in non-endemic countries,”  Kluge said.

In Britain, the UK Health Security Agency’s Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Susan Hopkins noted in a statement released this past weekend:

“We anticipated that further cases would be detected through our active case finding with NHS services and heightened vigilance among healthcare professionals. We expect this increase to continue in the coming days and for more cases to be identified in the wider community. Alongside this we are receiving reports of further cases being identified in other countries globally. 

Because the virus spreads through close contact, we are urging everyone to be aware of any unusual rashes or lesions and to contact National Health Service or a sexual health service if they have any concerns.  Please contact clinics ahead of your visit and avoid close contact with others until you have been seen by a clinician.

A notable proportion of recent cases in the UK and Europe have been found in gay and bisexual men so we are particularly encouraging them to be alert to the symptoms and seek help if concerned.

Clinicians should be alert to any individual presenting with unusual rashes without a clear alternative diagnosis and should contact specialist services for advice,” she added.

Monkeypox, which can be transmitted by droplets and by close contact with infected skin lesions or contaminated materials, usually incubates in people for 6 to 13 days before symptoms appear.

UKHSA notes that this rare virus, in the same family as smallpox, has not previously been described as a sexually transmitted infection, but it it can be passed on through very close human contact, such as touching blood or body fluids or prolonged exposure to the respiratory droplets of an infected person. It can also been transmitted with clothing or linens used by an infected person.

In Washington D.C., Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House Covid-19 response coordinator, told ABC he wouldn’t be surprised if the US saw “a few more” cases of monkeypox in the coming days.

“But I feel like this is a virus we understand, we have vaccines against it, we have treatments against it, and it’s spread very differently than SARS-CoV-2” — the virus that causes Covid-19, Jha told ABC’s Martha Raddatz on Sunday.

Traveling in Asia, President Joe Biden told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins as he was preparing board Air Force One to depart South Korea on Sunday; “They haven’t told me the level of exposure yet, but it is something that everybody should be concerned about,” he said.

“We’re working on it hard to figure out what we do and what vaccine, if any, might be available for it. It is a concern in that if it were to spread it would be consequential. That’s all they told me,” the president added.

CNN reported that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is evaluating whether a smallpox vaccine should be offered to health care workers treating monkeypox patients and other people who may be at “high risk” for exposure to monkeypox.

UK Health Security Agency’s Hopkins cautions that people should be aware of monkeypox — but that the risk to the general population “remains extremely low at the moment.”

“I think people need to be alert to it,” said Hopkins. “We really want clinicians to be alert to it and send the test if they’re concerned.”

Hopkins also said based on reports from Africa, the UKHSA knows certain people are “much more at risk of severe disease, particularly immunosuppressed individuals or young children.

“While there is “no direct vaccine for monkeypox,” she said, “we are using a form of smallpox vaccine or third-generation smallpox vaccine that’s safe on individuals who are contacts of cases.”

Symptoms

Initial symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion. A rash can develop, often beginning on the face, then spreading to other parts of the body including the genitals.

The rash changes and goes through different stages, and can look like chickenpox or syphilis, before finally forming a scab, which later falls off.

“A feature that distinguishes infection with monkeypox from that of smallpox is the development of swollen lymph nodes,” the CDC said.

Biden Comments On Monkeypox As He Leaves South Korea:

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Russia

U.S. official meets with Brittney Griner

Consular visit took place on May 19

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A mugshot of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was arrested on drug charges in the country after Russian officials say cannabis oil was found in her luggage. (Russian television screenshot)

A U.S. consular official on May 19 visited detained WNBA star Brittney Griner in Russia.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Friday told reporters during a virtual briefing the officer “found her continuing to do as well as could be expected under these exceedingly challenging circumstances.” The officer met with Griner two days after U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan said Russian officials had denied consular visits with her three times this month.

“Our message is a clear and simple one,” said Price. “We continue to insist that Russia allow consistent and timely consular access to all U.S. citizen detainees. One-off visits are not sufficient, and we will continue to call on Moscow to uphold its commitments under the Vienna Convention for consistent and timely access as well.”

Griner — a center for the Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife — was taken into custody at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February. Russian officials said customs inspectors found hashish oil in her luggage.

The State Department has determined Russia “wrongfully detained” Griner. 

A Russian court on May 13 extended her detention for another month. The Women’s National Basketball Players Association, a union that represents WNBA players, has endorsed a petition that urges the Biden administration to “prioritize” Griner’s release.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, on May 14.

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Latin America

U.S. announces more funding to fight HIV/AIDS in Latin America

Jill Biden made announcement on Saturday in Panama

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Former Panamanian first lady Lorena Castillo and UNAIDS in 2017 launched a campaign to fight discrimination against Panamanians with HIV/AIDS. Panama will receive $12.2 million in new PEPFAR funding to further combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Latin America. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

First lady Jill Biden on Saturday announced the U.S. will provide an additional $80.9 million to the fight against HIV/AIDS in Latin America.

Biden during a visit to Casa Hogar el Buen Samaritano, a shelter for people with HIV/AIDS in Panama City, said the State Department will earmark an additional $80.9 million for President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief-funded work in Latin America. A Panamanian activist with whom the Washington Blade spoke said LGBTQ people were among those who met with the first lady during her visit.

Pope Francis visited the shelter in 2019.

“I’m glad we have the opportunity to talk about how the United States and Panama can work together to combat HIV,” said the first lady.

Michael LaRosa, the first lady’s spokesperson, noted Panama will receive $12.2 million of the $80.9 million in PEPFAR funding.

“This funding, pending Congressional notification, will support expanded HIV/AIDS services and treatment,” said LaRosa.

UNAIDS statistics indicate an estimated 31,000 Panamanians were living with HIV/AIDS in 2020. The first lady’s office notes the country in 2020 had the highest number of “newly notificated cases of HIV/AIDS” in Central America.

The first lady visited Panama as part of a trip that included stops in Ecuador and Costa Rica.

The Summit of the Americas will take place next month in Los Angeles. The U.S. Agency for International Development and PEPFAR in April announced they delivered more than 18 million doses of antiretroviral drugs for Ukrainians with HIV/AIDS.

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