I was once again on assignment for the Washington Blade in Honduras from Feb. 6-11. I interviewed Víctor Grajeda, the first openly gay man elected to the Honduran Congress, and met Indyra Mendoza, founder of Cattrachas, a lesbian human rights group, at her office in Tegucigalpa, the country’s capital and largest city. I visited Dunia Orellana and Amílcar Cárcamo of Reportar sin Miedo, the Blade’s media partner in Honduras. I also had more than my share of “granitas de café,” or “iced coffees,” while in the country.
Honduras is one of the most violent and corrupt countries in the Americas.
The situation on the ground last July when I was on assignment in San Pedro Sula, the country’s second largest city, and in the cities of Tela and La Ceiba on Honduras’ Caribbean coast, was tense.
The trip took place against the backdrop of growing concerns over what would happen if the results of the presidential election that was scheduled to take place less than five months later were disputed. A pandemic-related curfew that was in place also added to this sense of uneasiness.
The situation on the ground on this most recent trip to Honduras felt slightly different.
President Xiomara Castro, a member of the leftist Free Party whose husband, former President Manuel Zelaya was removed from office in a 2009 coup, took office on Jan. 27.
Castro defeated Nasry Asfura, a member of now former President Juan Orlando Hernández’s National Party who is Tegucigalpa’s former mayor, in the presidential election’s first round that took place last Nov. 28. Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power are among the foreign dignitaries who attended Castro’s inauguration that took place at Honduras’ national stadium in Tegucigalpa. Grajeda and our Reportar sin Miedo colleagues were also on hand to witness the moment when Honduras’ first female president took office.
“I was there for this historic moment,” said Erick Martínez, a long-time activist who ran for Congress in 2017, during an interview in San Pedro Sula on Feb. 8. “I was crying in this full stadium; crying with pride; with joy; with sadness for the people who were not there.”
Martínez specifically mentioned Walter Tróchez and Erick Martínez Ávila, two Honduran LGBTQ activists who were murdered in December 2009 and May 2012 respectively. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in a landmark ruling it issued last June said the Honduran state was responsible for the murder of Vicky Hernández, a transgender activist who was killed in San Pedro Sula hours after the 2009 coup.
Juan Orlando Hernández was president of Congress from January 2010 to June 2013. He became the country’s head of state in 2014.
The Supreme Electoral Tribunal declared Hernández the winner of the 2017 presidential election, despite widespread irregularities and criticism that his decision to run for a second term violated the Honduran constitution. The disputed election results sparked widespread protests across the country that left dozens of people dead.
Juan Orlando Hernández did not attend Castro’s inauguration.
I was driving to interview Grajeda in San Pedro Sula when I read a press release from Secretary of State Antony Blinken that announced the U.S. had sanctioned Juan Orlando Hernández for corruption.
Honduran authorities on Feb. 15 arrested Juan Orlando Hernández at his Tegucigalpa home after the U.S. asked for his extradition on drug and weapons charges. Federal prosecutors allege Juan Orlando Hernández used drug trafficking to fund his political campaigns.
Juan Orlando Hernández’s brother, former Congressman Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, is serving a life sentence in the U.S. after a federal jury convicted him of trafficking tons of cocaine into the country. I was driving from San Pedro Sula to Tegucigalpa on Feb. 8 when I heard on the radio that a federal judge in New York had sentenced Geovanny Fuentes Ramírez, a drug trafficker who allegedly bribed Juan Orlando Hernández and other Honduran government officials, to life in prison.
Honduras was certainly a “narco state” when Juan Orlando Hernández was president.
Castro, for her part, has publicly supported marriage equality and backs legal recognition of trans Hondurans and what Grajeda described as “safe spaces” for LGBTQ people.
Six gay men and a trans man have been reported killed in Honduras since Castro took office. Police continue to face criticism over the investigation into the Jan. 11 murder of Thalía Rodríguez, a prominent trans activist who was shot in front of her Tegucigalpa home. Jerlín, a trans man who I interviewed last July in La Ceiba, fled the country weeks before Castro took office and plans to ask for asylum in the U.S.
None of the sources with whom I spoke in Honduras are naive to the many challenges that Castro and her government face. They are also waiting to see whether the new government in Tegucigalpa will have a tangible impact on the lives of LGBTQ Hondurans who continue to face rampant violence and discrimination.
We shall see.
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Eswatini government refuses to allow LGBTQ rights group to legally register
Supreme Court previously ruled in favor 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.”
Pakistan resumes issuing ID cards to transgender people
Federal Shariat Court in June ruled against trans rights law
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.”
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.
TikTok in talks with Kenyan government to stop LGBTQ-specific content
Official says ‘draft framework’ will be ready by end of this month
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.