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Chile’s former human rights secretary discusses marriage equality law

Lorena Recabarren attended country’s first same-sex wedding

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Former Chilean Deputy Human Rights Secretary Lorena Recabarren (Photo courtesy of Bernardita Vega)

Editor’s note: International News Editor Michael K. Lavers was on assignment in Chile from March 8-12.

SANTIAGO, Chile — A former member of the Chilean government said former President Sebastián Piñera was pivotal to the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples in the country.

Then-Deputy Human Rights Secretary Lorena Recabarren spoke with the Washington Blade on March 10 in her office near Chile’s Presidential Palace in Santiago, the country’s capital.

The interview took place hours after Javier Silva and Jaime Nazar became the first same-sex couple to legally marry in Chile. Recabarren the following day resigned before President Gabriel Boric and his government took office.

Then-President Michelle Bachelet, who is now the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, in 2017 introduced a bill in the Chilean Congress that sought to extend marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples. Recabarren told the Blade that Piñera’s “surprise” announcement last June that he supported the measure was “absolutely” pivotal.

“That changed everything,” said Recabarren.

Piñera last December signed the law after lawmakers approved it. Recabarren pointed out that Piñera during his comments at the signing ceremony noted his previous opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“The president on the day he signed the law said I was a person who did not support marriage equality and I have changed,” said Recabarren. “That also shows the humanity of the president, as someone who at the very least people can see (as an example) that human beings can change their perspectives when different experiences or people convince them.”

Piñera met privately with Silva and Nazar at the Presidential Palace shortly after they married. Recabarren and then-Justice Minister Hernán Larraín were among those who attended their wedding that took place at a Chilean Civil Registry and Identification Service office in Santiago’s Providencia neighborhood.

“Today we strongly reaffirm that love is love, recognizing all families without regard to sexual orientation,” tweeted Recabarren after she attended Silva and Nazar’s wedding. “Congratulations Jaime and Javier, who recently married under the new Marriage Equality Law.”

Movimiento de Integración y Liberación Homosexual, a Chilean LGBTQ rights group, in 2012 filed a lawsuit with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of three same-sex couples who were seeking marriage rights.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2012 ruled in favor of Karen Atala, a Chilean judge who lost custody of her three daughters to her ex-husband because she is a lesbian. The landmark decision established a legal precedent that has been used to advance marriage equality throughout Latin America.

A law that allowed same-sex couples to enter into civil unions in Chile took effect in 2015.

Bachelet introduced the marriage and adoption bills as part of an agreement it signed with Movilh and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Movilh in 2020 withdrew from it after it accused Piñera of not doing enough to advance marriage equality in Chile.

Recabarren praised both Movilh and Fundación Iguales, another Chilean LGBTQ rights group, for the work they did in support of marriage equality.

“Both of them pushed to make this a topic on the public agenda,” said Recabarren. “It ended up being super collaborative at the end. The two of them belong to a different world, to different sectors. They have a different foundation, but it would not have been possible without the role that civil society organizations played.”

Long-time Movilh Director Rolando Jiménez and Isabel Amor, president of Fundación Iguales, another Chilean LGBTQ rights group, attended Silva and Nazar’s wedding. Hunter T. Carter, a U.S.-based lawyer who advocates for marriage equality throughout Latin America, joined them.

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Africa

Uganda tightens grip on LGBTQ rights groups

Yoweri Museveni on July 16 dissolved country’s National Bureau of NGOs

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LGBTQ activists protest in front of the Ugandan Embassy in D.C. on April 25, 2023. Yoweri Museveni, the country's president, has signed a bill that tightens the grip on LGBTQ groups and other NGOs in the country. (Washington Blade photos by Michael K. Lavers)

The licensing, operation, and funding of LGBTQ organizations and other human rights groups in Uganda will now be under the government’s strict supervision.

President Yoweri Museveni on July 16 signed the Non-Governmental Organizations (Amendment) Act, 2024, that dissolves Uganda’s National Bureau of NGOs, which regulated the groups. The new law places its work under the Internal Affairs Ministry’s authority.

Museveni assented to bill after parliament passed it in April. MPs accused the NGOs Bureau of impeding the monitoring of NGOs activities, such as the promotion of homosexuality, that violate Ugandan law.

“I want you people (MPs) to be very careful when you are talking about NGOs,” Speaker Anita Among said during the parliamentary debate. “This is where money is being laundered into the country; this is how homosexuality money is coming into the country.”

The MPs noted that allowing the taxpayer-funded NGOs Bureau to operate independently without the State’s close supervision was putting Uganda at risk of losing its national objective of protecting its citizens from what they described as unwanted foreign practices through “funny money” given to LGBTQ rights organizations.

“I am aware of some NGOs that have been operating and doing things that are contrary to our own values and cultures, but I believe police and other agencies have been dealing with those other NGOs,” MP Sarah Opendi, who is a vocal LGBTQ rights opponent, said.

The MPs also backed the move for the NGOs Bureau to be under the Security Ministry’s oversight as “critical” by accusing it of bureaucracy in getting licenses and information. The NGOs regulator, however, does not allow the licensing of LGBTQ lobby groups for promoting homosexuality.

The NGOs Bureau in August 2022 halted the operations of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a group that fights discrimination against LGBTQ people in the country, because it was not registered by it or the Uganda Registration Services Bureau as Ugandan law requires. This decision came despite SMUG’s attempt in 2012 to reserve the name with the Uganda Registration Services Bureau for incorporation but the name was rejected for being “undesirable.”

The NGOs Bureau in stopping SMUG’s operations also noted the group did not have a physical office or location, and its representatives were reluctant to disclose it, despite partnering with the Health Ministry, the Uganda Human Rights Commission, and the Uganda police.

The NGOs Bureau, however, established government institutions that partnered with SMUG were unaware that it operated illegally.   

The NGOs Bureau’s move to halt SMUG’s operations “with immediate effect” prompted the group to challenge the decision in a lower court and then the Court of Appeal. SMUG lost both cases.    

SMUG Executive Director Frank Mugisha on Thursday, two days after Museveni signed the NGOs law, petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the Court of Appeal’s ruling against SMUG.

“Today, we filed a case at the Supreme Court of Uganda to challenge the decision by the Court of Appeal rejecting the registration of Sexual Minorities Uganda,” Mugisha stated.    

Mugisha, together with two other LGBTQ activists, Dennis Wamala and Ssenfuka Joanita Wary, argue the Court of Appeal judges’ application of the principle of public morality in interpreting constitutional and human rights law in its March 12 ruling was erroneous.

“The learned justices of the Court of Appeal erred in law when they held that the proposed objectives of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) are criminal and prohibited under Section 145 of the Penal Code Act,” reads the Supreme Court petition.

The three appellants also argue the Court of Appeal judges incorrectly maintained SMUG’s name was “undesirable” and the NGOs Bureau was within its mandates to disallow the registration in the “public interest” under the Companies Act. They also argue the Court of Appeal judges erred when they dismissed their appeal and want the Supreme Court to grant them to fully consider their petition.

 “It is proposed to ask the Supreme Court for orders that the decision and orders of the Court of Appeal be set aside and substituted with orders of this honorable court,” reads the petition.  

Activists consider the NGOs Bureau and the Uganda Registration Services Bureau’s decision to reject SMUG’s registration a violation of the right to freedom of expression and association. 

The appeal of the Court of Appeal’s ruling to the Supreme Court comes on the heels of the appeal of the Constitutional Court’s ruling that upheld the Anti-Homosexuality Act that Museveni signed in May 2023. Mugisha is among the 22 activists who petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the Constitutional Court’s ruling on July 11.

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South America

Report finds more Argentina businesses adopting LGBTQ-inclusive policies

Activists condemn new government’s rolling back of rights

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More than 1 million people took part in the Buenos Aires Pride parade in Argentina on Nov. 4, 2023. A new report finds more businesses in the country have implemented policies for their LGBTQ employees. (Photo courtesy of Esteban Paulón)

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation and LGBT+ Public Policy Institute of Argentina last week released their third annual report on the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the country’s workplaces.

The Global Workplace Equity Program: Equidad AR evaluates major Argentine and multinational companies and policies for their LGBTQ employees.

The total number of participating companies in this year’s survey increased from 76 to 82, which reflects a growing commitment to creating LGBTQ-inclusive policies and practices in Argentine workplaces. The report also notes 224,649 queer employees, which is a 120 percent increase over last year.

The HRC Foundation’s AR Equity Program is based on the HRC Corporate Equity Index, the leading survey that assesses LGBTQ workplace in the U.S. Companies that lead the way in LGBTQ inclusion and equity earn the HRC Foundation’s “Best Places to Work LGBT+ 2024” designation.

Fifty-five of the 82 participating companies in Argentina earned this certification this year. They represent 26 different business sectors.

“As we’ve seen countless times, when organizations implement LGBT+ policies, everyone wins: Workers are better able to reach their full potential and employers reaffirm their commitment to treating all people with dignity and respect,” said RaShawn Hawkins, senior director of the HRC Foundation’s Workplace Equality Program. “We are very proud of our partners for the work they have done to advance LGBT+ equality in their workplaces and look forward to continuing to work with them as partners in this fight.”

The commitment to LGBTQ-inclusive policies and practicies is significant in a different way for the community in Argentina this year.

HRC indicated “recent public administrative changes focused on the LGBT+ community motivated the private sector to generate more opportunities to grow and develop its diverse workforce through business.”

President Javier Milei and his government have faced criticism over the closure of the National Institute against Discrimination and the Ministry of Women, Gender, and Diversity. 

“The complex context that Argentina is experiencing of difficulties, hostility, and refusal of the national government to sustain many of the public policies that were carried out in recent years, puts the private sector at the center, which clearly has all the conditions to make an important contribution and become a decisive factor to support from another place different from the one we have been used to because the State has run away,” gay Congressman Esteban Paulón told the Washington Blade.

The congressman added “the private sector, and from the cooperation between the public sector and the private sector, can work and sustain many of the achievements that have been achieved in these years.” Paulón said they include implementation of a labor quota for transgender people that Milei’s government is no longer implementing, but “could be sustained” with a “firm commitment” from the private sector.

Onax Cirlini, HRC’s AR Equity implementing partner, said that “beyond the institutional efforts highlighted in this report, we see the dynamics generated by activism organized by employee resource groups (ERGs)/business resource groups (BRGs) or affinity groups.” 

“This internal momentum, often led by people in the community itself, enhances institutional equality efforts by providing continuity and persistence,” said Cirlini.

Dolores Covacevich, another HRC AR Equity implementing partner, stressed the group recognizes “the importance of every role within companies and organizations as they work toward the integration of diversity, equity and inclusion policies, and the commitment to LGBT+ inclusion efforts.”

“We know that none of this work would be possible without inclusive leadership that promotes these processes,” said Covacevich.

HRC has worked with groups in Mexico, Chile, and Brazil to implement similar indexes in their respective countries.

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India

Schools in India’s Kerala state adopt gender-neutral curricula

Initiative encourages administrators to change uniform policies

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A page from the Kerala state government’s new textbooks that introduces non-traditional gender roles to students. (Photo courtesy of Kerala State General Education Minister V. Sivankutty’s Facebook page)

When schools in India’s Kerala state reopened on June 3 after a long summer break, students walked into classrooms with the usual excitement. This year, however, they were greeted with a surprising and groundbreaking change. The textbooks they received were unlike any they had seen before — filled with gender-neutral images and instructions.

The initiative, driven by the state’s commitment to fostering equality from a young age, aimed to break down traditional gender roles and promote inclusivity. Students found pictures of boys and girls engaging in various activities without gender-specific expectations.

One of the images showed the father grating coconut in the kitchen while his wife cooked food. Another picture showed the father cooking food for his daughter.

In an unprecedented move, some schools in Kerala have committed to gender neutrality beyond textbooks, introducing gender-neutral uniforms. This change marks a significant departure from the traditional Indian school uniform, where boys typically wear shirts and pants, and girls don skirts, often in different colors. Many schools in Kerala have introduced the same school uniform for all students including shirts and knee-length pants.

More than 12 schools in Kerala have shifted to gender-neutral dresses so far. While there are a total of 4,504 government-run schools in Kerala, the Kerala Child Rights Commission last year decided to remove the use of words like “sir” and “madam” for teachers and instead encouraged to use of universal terms like “teacher” on school premises, but the Department of General Education, a state government body that overseas education in schools, refrained from any changes.

The National Council of Education Research and Training, a government-autonomous body of India’s Education Ministry, in 2023 introduced a manual that directs schools to implement transgender-inclusive curricula, safe washrooms, and gender-neutral dress for students to prevent gender-based discrimination and violence.

The Mumbai-based Aditya Birla World Academy, a private international school, in 2022 adopted gender-neutral uniforms and language in its 138 branches across the country. The school replaced “ladies” and “gentlemen” and other gender-specific words with “dear guests” or “hello everyone.” The school sent an email to parents that told them how to reduce gender differentiation in uniforms so students of various genders and those who are gender non-conforming or questioning their gender can feel safe discovering and expressing themselves at the school.

The Aditya Birla World Academy has also established the Rainbow Club, an LGBTQ support group led by students and guided by teachers, to create an environment of activism in the classroom, shifted to allow students to choose the length of their hair as long as it is neatly tied up, along with other activities that include workshops with teachers and parents under the initiative of “move away from the cis heteronormative environment in the education world.”

While talking to the Washington Blade, Harish Iyer, an equal rights activist, said children should be allowed to dress the way they want. He also said the idea of uniforms in schools is that a student should feel included, regardless of what strata of society to which they belong.

“Adding gender-neutrality to uniforms would only extend the whole purpose of the uniforms,” said Iyer. “It should be appreciated by all as there is no question of any debate here. What should be debated is that some people are forced to wear what is not part of their gender identity.”

Iyer told the Blade there should not be any gender assigned to clothes. He said uniforms should be based on comfort and not based on gender.

Indrani Chakraborty, a mother of a trans child and an LGBTQ activist based in northeast India, told the Blade the Kerala government’s decision to implement gender-neutral uniforms is welcome. She said her organization, Annajoree, is also trying to sensitize people on the same issue in Assam state.

“We are promoting safe-spaces in schools in Assam so that kids can complete their basic education without any mental harassment at school,” said Chakraborty. “Kerala is doing great work, it’s a great initiative and everyone should come forward to support it. It should be everywhere in our country.”

Indrani Chakraborty (Photo courtesy of Indrani Chakraborty)

She also told the Blade that schools not sensitized to LGBTQ issues creates a fear of bullying. Students, according to Chakraborty, in particular face bullying and they are not allowed to join classes in their preferred uniforms and do not have access to gender-neutral bathrooms. 

She has started an initiative called the “No More Holding Pee Initiative” in schools.

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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