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State Department releases 2021 human rights report

Anti-LGBTQ persecution, violence remains commonplace around the world

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to reporters on April 12, 2022, after the State Department released its annual human rights report. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The State Department’s annual human rights report that was released on Tuesday notes anti-LGBTQ persecution and violence remains commonplace in many countries around the world.

The report notes consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in Jamaica and dozens of other countries. Iran and Afghanistan are two of the handful of nations in which homosexuality is punishable by death.

The report specifically cites the case of Alireza Fazeli Monfared, an Iranian man whose relatives killed in in May 2021 after they discovered he was gay and non-binary. The report also notes the Taliban regaining control of Afghanistan in August 2021 “increased fears of repression and violence among LGBTQI+ persons, with many individuals going into hiding to avoid being captured by the Taliban.”

“Many fled the country after the takeover,” reads the report. “After the takeover, LGBTQI+ persons faced increased threats, attacks, sexual assaults, and discrimination from Taliban members, strangers, neighbors and family members.”

The report includes statistics from Associação Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais, a Brazilian transgender rights group, that indicate 80 trans people — most of whom were Brazilians of African descent who were younger than 35 — were reported killed in the first six months of 2021. The report also cites Cattrachas, a lesbian feminist human rights group in Honduras that noted 17 “violent deaths of LGBTQI+ persons” in the country between January and August 2021.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken pointed out to reporters there are more than 1 million political prisoners in 65 countries. These include Yoav de la Cruz, a gay Cuban man who was sentenced to six years in prison last month after he livestreamed the first anti-government protest that took place on the island on July 11, 2021.

The report notes Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s continued efforts to rollback LGBTQ rights, which include a decree his government issued on Aug. 6, 2021, that restricted the sale of children’s books with LGBTQ-specific themes. The report also includes incidents of anti-LGBTQ violence, discrimination and hate speech in Poland.

This report focuses on 2021, and does not include details of human rights abuses that Russian forces have carried out against Ukrainian civilians during the ongoing war in their country. Blinken nevertheless criticized Russia throughout his remarks.

“In many years running, we have seen an alarming recession in democracy, in rule of law, respect for human rights in many parts of the world,” said Blinken. “In the time since releasing our previous report, that backsliding has, unfortunately, continued. In few places have the human consequences of this decline have been as stark as they are in the Russian government’s brutal war on Ukraine.”

Blinken also described human rights as “universal.”

“People of every nationality, race, gender, disability and age are entitled to these rights, no matter what they believe, who they love, or any other characteristics,” he said. “This is especially important as a number of governments continue to claim, falsely, that human rights need to be applied based on global context. It’s no coincidence that many of the same governments are among the worst abusers of human rights.”

The report also notes LGBTQ rights advances around the world.

The Botswana Court of Appeals in November 2021 upheld a previous ruling that decriminalized homosexuality in the country. The report also notes the European Commission sanctioned Hungary over its efforts to curtail LGBTQ rights and Poland in response to so-called “LGBT-free zones.”

‘We do not claim a moral high ground’

President Biden in 2021 released a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad.

The White House last June named then-OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern as the next special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad. The State Department on Monday began to issue passports with “X” gender markers.

The State Department released its report less than a month after Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law his state’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Lawmakers in dozens of other states across the U.S. have introduced similar measures and others that specifically target transgender children.

“We’re not trying to pretend that these are not issues that we are grappling with here in the United States,” said Acting Assistant Secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Lisa Peterson in response to the Washington Blade’s question about the release of the report against the backdrop of anti-LGBTQ measures in the U.S. “This report, because it is very clearly focused on the rest of the world, we do dig in on other countries. We do not have a mandate to do a report on our own circumstances.”

“The universal nature of human rights also means that we have to hold ourselves accountable to the same standards,” said Blinken. “Even as this report looks outward at countries around the world, we’ve acknowledged from day one of this administration that we have challenges here in the United States.”

“We take seriously our responsibility to address these shortcomings and we know that the way we do it matters; together with citizens and communities, out in the open, transparent, not trying to pretend problems don’t exist, or sweeping them under a rug,” he added.

Peterson echoed Blinken before she took reporters’ questions.

“We can’t be credible advocates for human rights abroad if we don’t live up to the same principles at home,” said Peterson. “We do not claim a moral high ground, but we do, in the words of our Constitution, resolve to form a more perfect union, which means that we must continue to address the many human rights challenges in our own country.”

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Africa

Homophobic attacks in South Africa persist

Mpho Falithenjwa died by suicide after he was bullied for being gay

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Mpho Falithenjwa, 14, died by suicide earlier this month after he was bullied because he was gay. (Photo courtesy of Mpho Falithenjwa's Facebook page)

Despite having a constitution that explicitly protects LGBTQ and intersex South Africans, homophobic attacks remain pervasive in the country.

Mpho Falithenjwa, 14, died by suicide earlier this month after he was bullied because he was gay, according to his sister who spoke with MambaOnline, a local LGBTQ and intersex publication. South Africa’s LGBTQ and intersex community is wondering how an incident like this can be averted from happening again.

“We believe that the untimely passing of Mpho was mainly because of societal pressure, because of how society made it impossible for Mpho to come out without fear or prejudice, so what happened to Mpho really saddens us as activists it saddens us as Access Chapter 2 but over and above it saddens us as a country that 26 years after officially signing this Constitution as a country, we still have to grapple with issues of addressing the victimization of homophobia and transphobia subjected to the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and it happened a time when we are reflecting and commemorating international Pride,” said Mpho Buntse of Access Chapter 2, a South African LGBTQ and intersex rights organization. 

“Moreso, it brings eyes into the country to question the credibility of our Constitution because it cannot be that we have a Constitution that embraces the 2SLGBTQIA+ community yet it still makes it difficult for people to live without prejudice so this was conversion practice in the making because of the pressure that Mpho was given by society to conform to what society believes Mpho is as compared to what Mpho believes he is,” added Buntse. “What happened to self-affirmation? Generally as a country I think we really need to take a stance, a very strong stance in fighting and confronting issues of transphobia and homophobia from a place of policy more than anything.” 

Ruth Maseko of the Triangle Project called for more stringent measures to be taken against any form of bullying.

“There are many forms of bullying, verbally, physically and emotionally, it is abusive and should never be tolerated. Nobody should stand by no matter who you are, what your position is or what your age is and watch another person being bullied,” said Maseko. “Moreover, a deep concern for us is that the ages of perpetrators of hate crimes have been young. What are we passing on to our young people? What messages are we giving them, that makes it okay to start calling people names and excluding people because of who they are?”  

Falithenjwa’s death by suicide is the latest case to send shockwaves across South Africa.

A court in Pretoria in April sentenced two men to life in prison for raping a 19-year-old lesbian in 2020.

Human Rights Watch statistics indicate at least 20 LGBTQ and intersex people were reported killed in South Africa between February and October 2021. The international NGO indicates many of them were either beaten or stabbed to death because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“We cannot keep losing young lives just based on who they are and how they identify. It’s hard when you are young and feel that you are not accepted and then bullied, and nobody does anything to stop bullying wherever it happens,” said Maseko. “That person then turns that hate inwards and ends their own life before their life has even really begun. Why? Just because of who that person is? Words have the ability to cause this outcome and it is devastating that a young person feels like they can no longer go on because of someone else’s words.”

Maseko added it is “not acceptable and should not be tolerated.” 

“Our children should be learning in their homes that it is never okay to do this to others. Children should not engage in prejudice,” said Maseko. “If they have learnt it, because none of us are born with prejudice, they have the ability to unlearn it. In schools, where it is evident that someone is the target of bullying on any grounds, immediate action should be taken.”

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Europe

Turkish police arrest hundreds over banned Pride parade

Istanbul officials sought to prevent event from happening

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LGBTQ activists in Istanbul on June 26, 2022, with a banner reads: ""If you don't let us walk, we will open our asses" (Photo courtesy of Kuir Mavzer/Kaos GL)

Hundreds of LGBTQ people, allies and supporters took to the streets of Istanbul Sunday in defiance of the country’s government’s ongoing 2014 ban of Pride parades and Pride Month festivities.

Protestors violently clashed repeatedly with police and security forces in various neighborhoods located around the Bol Ahenk Sokak (Pedestrian Plaza) and other sections of the central downtown area.

Authorities had shut down the city’s transit systems hours prior to the influx of LGBTQ activists and demonstrators and flooded streets with police in riot gear who made hundreds of arrests, in some cases tear gassing participants and attacking them with clubs.

Government security forces arrested over 373 people including Agence France-Presse journalist and chief photographer Bülent Kılıç. Detainees were taken by bus to a central holding facility for processing. Photojournalist Mehmet Demirci documented the arrest of Kılıç in a Twitter post.

Ankara-based Kaos GL, the largest Turkish LGBTQ activist group, documented the arrests and clashes which occurred prior to the 5 p.m. planned parade kick-off in a series of Twitter posts.

KAOS GL in a press release on Monday noted that “the detentions experienced during the march, was among ‘firsts’ for this year. Totally 373 LGBTIs and LGBTI+ right defenders were taken into custody on the day of march! This number is a record both in the history of Pride marches and the other public demonstrations.”

The group also recorded the scope of anti-LGBTQ Pride Month bans and pressure by Turkey’s governmental bodies across the country.

“There were 10 ban decisions announced within the scope of Pride Month events. These ban decisions were taken by Boğaziçi University Rectorate, METU Rectorate, Gaziantep Governorship, Çanakkale Governorship, Datça District Governorship, Beyoğlu District Governorship, Kadıköy District Governorship, Eskişehir Governorship and İzmir Governorship.

The detentions began with 70 people at ninth Boğaziçi Pride March on May 20, increasingly went on till June 26. 373 people were taken into custody in Istanbul on June 26. This number is among the highest detentions within the context of the public demonstrations in İstanbul recent years. Totally 530 LGBTI+s and LGBTI+ right defenders were detained in 37 days.”

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South America

Activists across South America mark Pride Month

Demonstration in Chilean capital drew more than 100,000 people

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More than 100,000 people attended a Pride protest in Santiago, Chile, on June 25, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Gonzalo Velásquez)

Activists in Chile and across Latin America on June 25 took to the streets to celebrate Pride Month.

The Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation (Movilh) and Fundación Iguales in Chile organized a demonstration in Santiago, the country’s capital, in which more than 100,000 people participated. March organizers demanded the repeal of Article 365 of the Chilean Penal Code that criminalizes same-sex couples.

Movilh member Felipe Castillo explained “Article 365 of the Penal Code stigmatizes and discriminates against young homosexuals, as it sets 18 years as the age of sexual consent, when for heterosexuals it is 14 years.”

The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child has asked Chile to repeal Article 365. The country has committed to eliminate the law in an agreement it signed with Movilh in 2016 before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Chile’s marriage equality law took effect on March 10, the day before President Gabriel Boric took office. 

New Colombia president a sign of hope for LGBTQ, intersex activists

LGBTQ and intersex activists in Colombia are looking forward to what will be a new political era after former Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro won the second round of the country’s presidential elections on June 19. Petro, along with his running mate, Vice President-elect Francia Márquez, who will be the country’s first vice president of African descent, will be the first leftist executives in Colombian history.

A source in Bogotá, the Colombian capital, told the Washington Blade that Petro during the campaign pledged to fight violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and to implement policies “for the reaffirmation of gender identities and sexual orientation without barriers for all non-binary people and transgender people in Colombia.”

Manuel Velandia, a long-time Colombian LGBTQ and intersex activist who organized the country’s first demonstration in support of queer rights 39 years ago, told the Blade that authorities sent a contingent of 100 police officers and “we — 29 gay men, two lesbian women and a transsexual woman — marched.”

“The march could take place because in Colombia it was a crime to be homosexual and we achieved the decriminalization of homosexuality in the Penal Code,” said Velandia.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Bogotá on June 25 to demand a nationwide LGBTQ and intersex strategy “as a measure to guarantee the rights of this population, combat discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sexual characteristics (OSIEGCS), and eliminate the barriers that persist for the materialization of the rights acquired by judicial means, according to national and international human rights standards.” 

Velandia explained to the Blade that activists are “writing a document of what we expect from the next government from president’s inauguration and during the first 100 days.”

“We now are focusing on the most priority issues,” said Velandia. “We think that a law that comes out of a ministry is not as important as a national law passed by Congress.”

Additional Pride marches will take place in Bogotá in the coming days.

Peruvian activists hold country’s largest-ever Pride march

The largest Pride march in Peru’s history took place on June 25 in Lima, the country’s capital.

“It has been the largest march in the 20 years of history of this massive activity,” activist Jorge Apolaya told the Blade. “[It was a] joyful rebellion, as we call it.”

Apoyala pointed out activists took to the streets because “it is necessary” for Peru and President Pedro Castillo’s government to act on “the demands of the LGBT population, the gender identity law, the equal marriage law that are pending before respective committees in the Congress of the Republic and generate the necessary discussions so that they can be debated.”

According to the activist, “the country continues to remain at the back door with respect to respect for LGBT human rights in the world, but not even in the world, but at the Latin American level.”

Protests prompt cancellation of many Ecuador Pride events

Protests that have taken place across Ecuador for more than two weeks prompted activists to suspend most activists and demonstrations in favor of LGBTQ and intersex rights that had been scheduled to take place this month.

“There are seven Prides that have already been suspended out of those that were scheduled,” Diane Rodríguez, a prominent Ecuadorian activist, told the Blade.

Rodríguez noted two marches in the cities of Santo Domingo and Loja were able to take place on Saturday.

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