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Marielle Franco’s widow keeps her legacy alive

Mônica Benício elected to Rio de Janeiro Municipal Council in 2020



Rio de Janeiro Municipal Councilwoman Mônica Benício in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on March 19, 2022. Her widow, Rio de Janeiro Municipal Councilwoman Marielle Franco, and her driver, Anderson Gomes, were murdered on March 14, 2018. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Editor’s note: International News Editor Michael K. Lavers was on assignment in Brazil from March 12-21.

RIO DE JANEIRO — March 14 marked four years since the murders of Rio de Janeiro Municipal Councilwoman Marielle Franco and her driver, Anderson Gomes, after they attended an event for Black women in the Brazilian city’s Lapa neighborhood. It remains very difficult for Franco’s widow, Mônica Benício, to discuss that day without becoming emotional.

“Before I start crying, I’ll just ask you to imagine what it is like to lose the love of your life,” said Benício on Saturday, speaking through her assistant who interpreted for her during an interview with the Washington Blade.

A tattoo of Franco’s face on Benício’s left forearm was visible throughout the interview that took place at a coffee shop near Largo de Machado in downtown Rio. A picture of Franco at a beach was also the screensaver on Benício’s smartphone.

Marielle Franco (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

Franco, a bisexual woman and single mother of African descent, grew up in Maré, a favela in the northern part of Rio that is close to its international airport.

Franco in 2003 began to work for now Congressman Marcelo Freixa, who is currently a member of the Brazilian Socialist Party, when he was a member of the Rio de Janeiro (State) Legislative Assembly. She coordinated its Defense of Human Rights and Citizenship Commission and worked for a number of local human rights organizations before she won a seat on the Rio Municipal Council in 2016 as a member of the leftist Socialism and Liberty Party.

Benício noted Franco received the fifth highest number of votes among the 51 candidates who ran for the Municipal Council in 2016. Only one other female candidate received more votes than Franco.

Franco, among other things, was an outspoken critic of police raids in Rio’s favelas that have left hundreds of people dead. She was a member of a Rio Municipal Council commission that sought to investigate them.

Franco four days before her murder described the Rio de Janeiro State Military Police’s 41st Battalion as “the death battalion” in response to the killings of three young men in two of the city’s favelas.

Authorities in 2019 arrested two former police officers in connection with Franco’s murder.

Benício noted the men remain in jail, but their trial has not begun.

“The struggle for justice to find out who ordered the murder and how high up they were indicates we are still far from knowing,” she said.

Ronnie Lessa, one of the main suspects, lived in the same large condominium complex in Rio’s exclusive Barra da Tijuca neighborhood in which President Jair Bolsonaro lives.

Bolsonaro, a former Brazilian Army captain who represented Rio in Congress for decades, was not president when Franco and Gomes were murdered.

Bolsonaro has strongly denied media reports that indicate Lessa visited his home before the killings. Benício referred to investigators’ claim the fact that Lessa and Bolsonaro were neighbors is “just a coincidence.”

Bolsonaro election ‘worst thing’ in Brazil for decades

Bolsonaro took office on Jan. 1, 2019. He defeated former São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s Workers’ Party in the second round of the country’s presidential election that took place on Oct. 28, 2018.

“It’s the worst thing that’s happened in the history of this country for decades,” said Benício.

Bolsonaro’s comments against LGBTQ Brazilians, women, indigenous people and other underrepresented groups have sparked widespread outrage. Sources in Rio, São Paulo and Salvador with whom the Blade spoke also noted Bolsonaro, who is a member of the Liberal Party, has sought to link COVID-19 vaccines to AIDS.

“It is important for us to understand that Jair Bolsonaro has been in Congress for 30 years and has made no contribution to society,” said Benício.

Benício noted Bolsonaro’s homophobic, transphobic, racist and misogynist rhetoric was “known” before he became president. Benício said it resonates with a segment of Brazilian society and has caused incidents of discrimination, harassment and violence based on race, sexual orientation, gender identity, class and other factors to increase.

“It is an absolutely despicable posture and incompatible with a posture of the president of the republic,” she said. “It does, however, resonates with sectors of society.”

An anti-Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro t-shirt for sale in a market in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on March 19, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Brazil’s presidential, vice presidential, congressional and state gubernatorial and legislative elections will take place on Oct. 2.

Early polls indicate da Silva is ahead of the highly unpopular Bolsonaro, although a run-off will take place if no presidential candidate receives a majority of the vote. Eduardo Leite, the governor of Rio Grande do Sul State and member of the center-left Brazilian Social Democratic Party who came out as gay last summer, is among those who are running for vice president.

Benício told the Blade that she is hopeful the election “will not be a favorable result” for Bolsonaro. Benício also acknowledged growing concerns that Bolsonaro may not accept the election results if he loses.

“Whether we can complete this electoral period within (the framework of) our democracy or if we have someone who has finally shown that he has no scruples is a real concern,” said Benício. “It doesn’t matter if he hands over that presidential sash.”

Benício elected to Rio Municipal Council in 2020

Franco’s family has created the Marielle Franco Institute that seeks to “inspire, connect and empower Black women, LGBTQIA+ people and others on the margins in order to continue moving the structures of society towards a fairer and more egalitarian world.”

Benício, who also grew up in Maré, was an architect before Franco and Gomes were killed. Benício in 2020 ran for the Rio Municipal Council as a member of the Socialism and Liberty Party, and won with nearly 23,000 votes.

Benício’s first term would have been Franco’s second.

“It was never in my personal life plan,” Benício told the Blade. “I was the partner of a lawmaker and my life was dedicated to architecture.”

Benício said the majority of her colleagues on the Municipal Council have treated her well, although some of them strongly disagree with her positions on LGBTQ rights and other issues that include support for efforts to address social and economic disparities in the city. Benício stressed she champions the same issues that Franco did.

“They already knew me as a defender of human rights,” said Benício, referring to her colleagues on the Municipal Council. “They already knew me as a feminist, a lesbian.”

Benício further stressed she remains committed to keeping Franco’s legacy alive.

“Seeing Marielle turn into a broad representative symbol of resistance, of hope, for me is the legacy,” said Benício. “Marielle’s life will not be in vain. Society will also not allow it.”

A woman who took part in an International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia march in Havana on May 12, 2018, that the country’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) organized holds a picture of Marielle Franco. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)


Eswatini government refuses to allow LGBTQ rights group to legally register

Supreme Court previously ruled in favor of Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities



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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Pakistan resumes issuing ID cards to transgender people

Federal Shariat Court in June ruled against trans rights law



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

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



(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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