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USAID, PEPFAR deliver 18 million antiretroviral drug doses to Ukraine

NGO in war-torn country received shipment

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(Public domain photo)

The U.S. Agency for International Development and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief on Wednesday announced they delivered more than 18 million doses of antiretroviral drugs for Ukrainians with HIV/AIDS.

USAID Administrator Samantha Power posted a picture of the shipment on Twitter. She said it is “part of a broader U.S. effort to maintain continuity of life-saving treatments for chronic illnesses during Russia’s war.”

A USAID spokesperson told the Washington Blade that “USAID delivered the PEPFAR-funded antiretroviral drugs to a Ukrainian non-profit organization that provides health services to people living with HIV.”

“The organization is distributing the antiretroviral drugs to different regions within Ukraine based on need and logistical feasibility,” said the spokesperson.

The spokesperson did not identify the Ukrainian organization that received the drugs.

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Out in the World: LGBTQ news from Europe and Asia

Human Rights Watch in new report criticizes Jordanian government

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(Los Angeles Blade graphic)

Jordan

King Abdullah (Photo courtesy of the Jordanian Embassy in the U.S.)

The government of Jordanian King Abdullah have systematically targeted lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights activists and coordinated an unlawful crackdown on free expression and assembly around gender and sexuality, Human Rights Watch said in a report released earlier this month.

In its Dec. 4 report, HRW documented cases in which Jordan’s General Intelligence Department (GID) and the Preventive Security department of the Public Security Directorate interrogated LGBTQ activists about their work, and intimidated them with threats of violence, arrest and prosecution, forcing several activists to shut down their organizations, discontinue their activities and in some cases, flee the country. 

Government officials also smeared LGBTQ rights activists online based on their sexual orientation, and social media users posted photos of LGBTQ rights activists with messages inciting violence against them.

“Jordanian authorities have launched a coordinated attack against LGBT rights activists, aimed at eradicating any discussion around gender and sexuality from the public and private spheres,” said Rasha Younes, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Security forces’ intimidation tactics and unlawful interference in LGBT organizing have driven activism further underground and forced civil society leaders into an impossible reality: severe self-censorship or fleeing Jordan.”

Three activists said the Amman governor interrogated them after they preemptively cancelled the screening of a film depicting gay men. Two LGBTQ organization directors said that because of official intimidation, they were forced to close their offices, discontinue their operations in Jordan and flee the country.

One activist said Preventive Security officers made him sign a pledge that he would report all his venue’s activities to the governor. Another activist reported being targeted online while social media users called for him to be burned alive.

One of the few LGBTQ rights activists who has remained in Jordan described her current reality: “Merely existing in Amman has become terrifying. We cannot continue our work as activists, and we are forced to be hyperaware of our surroundings as individuals.”

More recently, in October 2023, an LGBTQ rights activist said he was summoned for investigation by the intelligence agency. During the interrogation, the activist said intelligence officers searched his phone, intimidated him and threatened him with a travel ban, while asking personal questions about his sexual orientation and sexual relations with other men. After three hours of questioning, the activist said the officers told him he could leave.

“They [Jordanian authorities] invest in intimidation to destroy our minds and isolate us,” the activist said. “Their tactic is to target us mentally, leaving no evidence of our torment behind.”

Jordan’s constitution protects the rights to nondiscrimination (article 6), the right to personal freedom (article 7), and the right to freedom of expression and opinion (article 15).

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Jordan is a state party, provides that everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression, assembly and association. The ICCPR, in its articles 2 and 26, guarantees fundamental human rights and equal protection of the law without discrimination. 

The U.N. Human Rights Committee, which interprets the covenant, has made clear that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited in upholding any of the rights protected by the treaty, including freedom of expression, assembly and association.

France

Openly gay French Sen. Hussein Bourgi speaks at a ceremony in Clermont-l’Hérault in the Hérault district he represents. (Photo courtesy of Hussein Bourgi’s Facebook page)

Legislation that was introduced last month by the openly gay Socialist Senator Hussein Bourgi to acknowledge the French state’s responsibility in the criminalization and persecution of gay men between 1945 and 1982 was adopted.

However, the section of bill that called for compensation of the victims of French homophobic laws, in effect during that period by offering them a lump sum of €10,000 ($10,752.75) was not approved.

Speaking with various French media outlets, Bourgi, who authored the bill, said: “It is high time to bring justice to the living victims of legislation which served as the basis for a politics of repression with brutal and punishing social, professional and familial consequences.”

Agence France-Presse reported

Bourgi’s text focuses on a 40-year period following the introduction of legislation that specifically targeted homosexuals under the Nazi-allied Vichy regime. The 1942 law, which was not repealed after the liberation of France, introduced a discriminatory distinction in the age of consent for heterosexual and homosexual sex, setting the former at 13 (raised to 15 at the Liberation) and the latter at 21.

Some 10,000 people — almost exclusively men, most of them working-class — were convicted under the law until its repeal in 1982, according to research by sociologists Régis Schlagdenhauffen and Jérémie Gauthier. More than 90 percent were sentenced to jail. An estimated 50,000 more were convicted under a separate “public indecency” law that was amended in 1960 to introduce an aggravating factor for homosexuals and double the penalty. 

“People tend to think France was protective of gay people compared to, say, Germany or the UK. But when you look at the figures you get a very different picture,” said Schlagdenhaufen, who teaches at the EHESS institute in Paris. 

“France was not this cradle of human rights we like to think of,” he added. “The revolution tried to decriminalise homosexuality, but subsequent regimes found other stratagems to repress gay people. This repression was enshrined in law in 1942 and even more so in 1960.” 

The legislation won the backing of Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti in President Emmanuel Macron’s government. However, Dupond-Moretti agreed with the removal of the compensation provision by the right-wing and center senatorial majority. Dupond-Moretti justified this choice noting concerns over “legal difficulties,” telling French magazine Le Monde that “putting into practice” of this compensation measure “appears extremely complex” due to the difficulty of providing proof of an old conviction and its execution.

The Dupond-Moretti added “It was not the law which was responsible for this harm” but “French society, homophobic in all its components at the time” adding, “This is not the fault of the Republic. The law of memory is enough.”

The bill must now be taken up by the lower house, the National Assembly, to be passed and then adopted.

Scotland

The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh (Photo courtesy of the Scottish government)

The Court of Session in Edinburgh has ruled that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s U.K. government acted within the law by invoking Section 35, which blocked the measure passed by the Scottish Parliament, that would have make it easier for transgender people to change their legally-recognized sex on documents.

The actions by Scottish Secretary Alister Jack, with Sunak’s backing kept the act from receiving the signature of King Charles III and becoming law. 

The Gender Recognition Reform bill was introduced by the Scottish government in the country’s Parliament in the spring of 2022 was passed in a final 86-39 vote days before last Christmas. The sweeping reform bill modifies the Gender Recognition Act, signed into law in 2004, by allowing trans Scots to gain legal recognition without the need for a medical diagnosis.

The measure further stipulates that age limit for legal recognition is lowered to 16.

In a statement released in January of this year, Jack said:

“After thorough and careful consideration of all the relevant advice and the policy implications, I am concerned that this legislation would have an adverse impact on the operation of Great Britain-wide equalities legislation. 

Transgender people who are going through the process to change their legal sex deserve our respect, support and understanding. My decision today is about the legislation’s consequences for the operation of GB-wide equalities protections and other reserved matters. 

I have not taken this decision lightly. The bill would have a significant impact on, amongst other things, GB-wide equalities matters in Scotland, England and Wales. I have concluded, therefore, that this is the necessary and correct course of action.”

The Scottish government sued Westminster in the Court of Session, Scotland’s highest civil court, arguing that Jack did not have “reasonable grounds” to block the bill. The BBC reported that in her ruling for the UK governments, Judge Lady Haldane dismissed the Scottish government’s appeal and said the block on the legislation was lawful.

Haldance noted that Jack followed correct legal procedures when he made his decision to invoke section 35 and that the Scottish government had failed to show that he had made legal errors.

The judge wrote: “I cannot conclude that he (Mr. Jack) failed in his duty to take such steps as were reasonable in all the circumstances to acquaint himself with material sufficient to permit him to reach the decision that he did.”

Haldane also said that “Section 35 does not, in and of itself, impact on the separation of powers or other fundamental constitutional principle. Rather it is itself part of the constitutional framework.”

Stonewall UK, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, expressed its disappointment with Haldane’s ruling in a statement released this past week: 

“We’re disappointed that the Court of Session in Scotland has found in favour of the UK government’s unprecedented decision to use Section 35 to block the Gender Recognition Reform Bill from Royal Assent. This bill was one of the most debated in the Scottish Parliament’s history and was passed by a resounding majority of MSPs drawn from all major Scottish parties.

This unfortunately means more uncertainty for trans people in Scotland, who will now be waiting once again, to see whether they will be able to have their gender legally recognised through a process that is in line with leading nations like Ireland, Canada and New Zealand.

Whatever happens next in discussions with the UK and Scottish governments on this matter, Stonewall will continue to press all administrations to make progress on LGBTQ+ rights in line with leading international practice.”

UNITED KINGDOM

Labor MP Chris Bryant speaking in the House of Commons. (Screenshot of the British government’s YouTube channel)

Anti-LGBTQ rhetoric used by British Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch during her speech on the floor of the House of Commons on Dec. 6, prompted Labor MP Chris Bryant, an openly gay lawmaker, to rise in opposition and declare her speech left him feeling unsafe. 

The debate was triggered by Badenoch claiming that the UK does not recognize self-ID from overseas countries for trans people, PinkNewsUK reported. In his retort to her statements, Bryant explained: “I feel, as a gay man, less safe than I did three years or five years ago.”

PinkNewsUK also noted that Bryant said: “Why? Sometimes because of the rhetoric that is used, including by herself [Badenoch] in the public debate.” He added that some MPs had cheered for Badenoch’s statements on the trans community, and for statements against gender-affirming care for trans people, which could lead to LGBTQ people feeling even less safe in the UK. 

“Many of us feel less safe today, and when people over there cheer as they just did, it chills me to the bone, it genuinely does,” Bryant said. 

She hit back with force, challenging him to identify which words precisely were so problematic. She later criticized the attempts of trans activists to use emotional blackmail to try to shut down debate.

The UK government has updated the list of countries from which gender-certificates will be accepted.

Replying to Bryant, Badenoch said: “He says that my rhetoric chills him to the bone. I would be really keen to hear exactly what it is I have said in this statement or previously that is so chilling.” She added that the current Tory government had done work on “our HIV action plan” and “around trans healthcare,” as well as “establishing five new community-based clinics for adults in the country.”

“There is a lot that we are doing, so it is wrong to characterize us as not caring about LGBT people,” she said. 

Bryant’s colleague, Ben Bradshaw, also failed to get the better of Badenoch. He complained the UK had recently fallen in a set of international rankings on LGBTQ rights. She calmly pointed out that those rankings reward states that adopt the Stonewall-supported policy of self-ID and punish those who do not. To cheers from the Tory benches, she declared “Stonewall does not decide the law in this country,” referring to Stonewall UK, the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ advocacy group.

Additional reporting from Human Rights Watch, Agence France-Presse, Le Monde, The BBC and PinkNewsUK.

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India

Transgender people seek government job consideration in India’s Maharashtra state

Court petition filed on Nov. 29

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Transgender flags (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Ancient texts in India have recorded the history and cultural importance of transgender people, but the community is still marginalized and vulnerable in the country. Although the government offers many vulnerable castes a specific number of slots for education and government jobs, trans people still have no such benefit and continue to face discrimination across the nation. 

Three trans people from Maharashtra state on Nov. 29 filed an application to the Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal seeking slots for trans people in government jobs and a “third gender” option in online job applications. Two applicants had applied for police officer posts, while the other had applied for a revenue officer post — both of which are government jobs in India.

While hearing the application, the Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal, a court that has all the powers of the High Court, said it cannot direct the state government to give slots for trans people in public employment and education. The Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal did say, however, that the state government should take more steps towards inclusivity for the community in mainstream society.

Maharashtra’s government told the tribunal it would not be possible to provide slots to trans people in government jobs or education. 

The Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal in a 26-page order directed the state government to give applicants the necessary points to qualify for the job if the applicant has secured 50 percent of the total marks for the concerned post. The tribunal also directed the government to provide age relaxation to trans applicants if they earned 45 points.

In India, every government job seeker goes through an examination to qualify for the job. Government job examinations are one of the toughest in India because there are millions of applications for a few positions, resulting in the need to secure higher marks to get a position.

More than one million applicants applied for 18,331 police officer positions in 2022. The government, however, provides slots to backward class applicants and gives points relaxation in examinations. Trans people in India are most marginalized and vulnerable with no slots in education or employment.

Retired Justice Mridula Bhatkar, who chairs the Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal and member Medha Gadgil in the ruling said the fact that not a single trans person who has come out received a job in the government sector speaks volumes.

“The transgender people are humans and are citizens of our great country who are waiting for their inclusion in the mainstream,” said the tribunal. “We have historical, mythological and cultural instances of eunuchs and their participation in political, social or cultural fields.”

The tribunal also said trans people are in the minority. 

Although the majority forms the government, the majority cannot suppress the rights of marginalized sections of society. The tribunal further added the situation in which the trans community finds itself is worse than what women faced in the past while demanding equality.

The tribunal highlighted the mere acknowledgment of the separate identity of trans people was not enough, but they also need to be given opportunities in government jobs.

“The State of Maharashtra has been very progressive in its thought and culture,” said the tribunal. “Therefore, it is desirable on the part of the government to take necessary measures to enable these transgender applicants to get jobs in the government sector.”

The tribunal mentioned Indian Constitution prohibits any kind of discrimination based on sex under articles 15 and 16.

“To get into public employment is a handicapped race for transgenders,” said the tribunal. “Though they are not physically disabled and are able-bodied persons, their activities, actions, growth are paralyzed due to the negative approach of society, family in all schools, colleges in all places at all levels.”

While representing the petitioners, Kranti LC, a lawyer, said that the Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Chattisgarh, Karnataka, Jharkhand and Bihar have provided reservations to trans people. The tribunal, however, noted it understands the state has reached the limit of vertical slot of 62 percent, but ordered the law can reach equality and harmony through social engineering.

“The courts are for justice and cannot ignore any societal problem when placed before it,” said the tribunal. “Under such circumstances, though courts are not the lawmakers while interpreting the law, a legally permissible solution is to be applied to meet the ends of justice.”

According to the Indian Supreme Court’s 1992 Indra Sawhney vs. Union of India ruling, nine judges upheld the 50 percent ceiling on slots and denied slots in promotion in government jobs. This means no government agencies or institutions can give slots more than 50 percent of total job openings. Maharashtra state already crossed the limit.

“It is very unfortunate, because transgender people are one of the most vulnerable people in India, and of the most marginalized population in our country,” said Kalki Subramaniam, a trans rights activist and founder of Sahodari Foundation, an organization that works for trans Indians. “For the horizontal reservation, we need to get the support of our government. We need to sensitize our members of Parliament. I think, all political parties do support (the) transgender community, and do understand the plight of the community and difficulties we face.”

Kalki told the Washington Blade the community needs to work hard. She said the community needs to start campaigning for horizontal slots. She said the community needs to MPs to get the necessary support for it.

While talking to the Blade, Rani Patel, an activist and founder of Aarohan, a nonprofit organization that works with trans Indians, said that it is right that the trans community needs to have reservations in jobs and education so that they can be mainstreamed in the society.

“I have been working with the transgender community for last 11 years in Delhi. We had worked very hard for the scraping of section 377,” said Patel. “All the equality and rights given by the Supreme Court of India is of no use until and unless they are not provided with reservation, because there is a stigma in the society against the transgender people, the community feel rejected and detached from the society.”

Patel told the Blade that only a few trans children are getting an education in the country. She said most of the trans people in India need to be skilled in whichever field for which they have an interest. Patel further said that while getting skills, the government should provide slots to trans people, otherwise giving skills will be of no use.

Patel and Aarohan were instrumental in drafting the Delhi government’s trans bill.

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

Ugandan Constitutional Court to consider challenge to Anti-Homosexuality Act

Hearing is slated to begin on Dec. 11

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(Image by rarrarorro/Bigstock)

Activists in Uganda are optimistic the queer community will get justice from the Constitutional Court hearing on a petition that challenges the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act.

Some of the groups that spoke to the Washington Blade before the hearing begins on Dec. 11 termed the law that President Yoweri Museveni signed in May as “discriminatory, unconstitutional and a violation of fundamental human rights.”  

Uganda Minority Shelters Consortium, a local NGO which supports and advocates for the rights of LGBTQ victims of violence and homelessness, noted the Anti-Homosexuality Act has created a “climate of fear and persecution” for queer Ugandans.

UMSC Coordinator John Grace said this situation has led to a spike in homophobic violence, discrimination and the LGBTQ community’s inability to access healthcare and other basic services due to fear.  

“We believe the court should nullify this discriminatory law and pave the way for a more inclusive and equitable society for all Ugandans,” Grace said in support of the four consolidated petitions that several LGBTQ activists filed.

The plaintiffs include Uganda’s Deputy High Commissioner to South Africa Kintu Nyango, Makerere University Law professors Sylvia Tamale and Busingye Kabumba, veteran journalist Andrew Mwenda, West Budama Northeast MP Fox Odoi and several advocacy groups. 

Odoi is Museveni’s former legal advisor.

Petitioners in a pre-hearing conference on Tuesday argue the Anti-Homosexuality Act violates Article 92 of Uganda’s constitution, which bars Parliament from enacting a law that goes against a decision by the country’s Judiciary. This position is in response to the Constitutional Court’s 2014 ruling that nullified a similar anti-homosexuality law.  

The plaintiffs also argue the Anti-Homosexuality Act was hurriedly passed within six days instead of 45 days as Parliament’s rules requires and that it was enacted without meaningful public consultation. 

“This hearing is crucial for LGBTQ+ Ugandans as it provides a platform to expose the law’s flaws and its detrimental impact on their lives, amplifies their voices to encourage dialogue about equality, tolerance and acceptance, and it instils hope and empowers the queer individuals to fight for their rights and dignity,” Grace stated.    

His remarks come a day after the U.S. Ambassador to Uganda William Popp defended the Biden-Harris administration’s decision to impose sanctions against some Ugandan officials and announced plans to remove Kampala from Washington’s duty-free trade program for sub-Saharan African countries over the anti-LGBTQ law. 

Ugandan Parliament Speaker Anitah Among, who is targeted in the U.S. visa travel ban, on Wednesday disclosed the White House has targeted more than 300 MPs who supported the Anti-Homosexuality Act. (U.S. government policy is not to target officials over legislative activity.) Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday announced the additional sanctions. 

Among and the other MPs hit back at the U.S. and vowed to protect the anti-LGBTQ law “with our blood, sweat and souls,” while cautioning Ugandans opposed to it should “leave our country and go to live in the United Kingdom or the United States.”  

Popp, while engaging with Ugandans virtually via X Spaces ahead of the Human Rights Day commemorations on Dec. 10 that will take place under the “Freedom, Equality and Justice for All” banner, said the U.S. “wants good things for Uganda as friends” through a sustained partnership.

“We have invested over 60 years of work, time, effort and resources as a partner of the Ugandan people,” said Popp. “We spend about one billion dollars annually in areas like health, education, and food security to improve livelihoods to try and build a more prosperous, freer and secure future for Ugandans which is good for the country, the region, the U.S. and the world.” 

Popp noted, however, this economic progress cannot succeed without respect for human rights because there is a direct correlation between economic prosperity and societies that are more open and have greater respect for human and civil rights. Popp conceded no country in the world is perfect — including the U.S. — and the Biden-Harris administration is only helping Kampala to identify areas in which Ugandan institutions can improve as they relate to punishing people who violates citizens’ human rights.

“Working on these issues as Ugandans and working collectively with us as partners is better for long-term goals and positive development in the country,” he said. “If this is done, Uganda collectively will move forward and the U.S. will be the first to applaud it.” 

Let’s Walk Uganda, another Ugandan advocacy group that openly LGBTQ people lead, is also challenging the Anti-Homosexuality Act. The organization told the Blade the case is a litmus test to the Judiciary’s core mandate of protecting the “weak” in the society.

“We are challenging the act for violating the entire Bill of Rights and other key provisions of the constitution and its spirit generally,” Martin Musiime, the group’s legal manager, said. “The Ugandan constitution is against the backdrop of tyranny, oppression and abuse of power against those without power or the marginalized.” 

Musiime expressed optimism that the petition has strong, convincing grounds for the court to “annul the apartheid law” while also confirming that they are ready to appeal should the court rule against the complainants. 

“These efforts are moving hand in hand with political and diplomatic engagements including piling pressure for sanctions,” Musiime said. “We are convinced the sanctions are working and we see efforts by the government to lessen on the severity of the law.”

Doctor Henry Mwebesa, the director general of Uganda’s Health Services, in August issued a circular to all health workers that directed them not to deny services to anyone visiting hospitals; not to discriminate or stigmatize them based on sexual orientation and to protect their privacy, confidentiality and safety.

Let’s Walk Uganda and UMSC maintain, however, this directive doesn’t guarantee queer people enough protection until the punitive and discriminatory provisions in the Anti-Homosexuality Act, such as reporting a suspected gay person to authorities, are removed and the entire law is repealed.

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