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Cloud-based platform seeks to improve health care for LGBTQ, intersex Indians

Borderless LGBT currently operates in Bengaluru

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Borderless LGBT is a cloud-based platform that is working to improve health care access to LGBTQ and intersex Indians. (Photo courtesy of Borderless LGBT)

The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc and forced India into a strict lockdown. 

The Indian government, through the Union Health Ministry, says upwards of 530,677 people died from COVID-19, and the country administered 2,200,212,178 doses of vaccines. The pandemic, however, exposed the truth about discrimination based on gender identity in the country’s healthcare system.

India’s transgender community, in particular, had a difficult time accessing the vaccine. 

The country’s LGBTQ and intersex community often faces discrimination and stigma in both traditional private and government-run healthcare facilities. To tackle this, Borderless LGBT, the world’s first cloud-based health and wellness medical service that specifically focuses on LGBTQ and intersex healthcare, has launched a cloud clinic in India. 

The cloud-based platform allows global experts to collaborate with local doctors who are interested in LGBTQ and intersex medicine to provide care to LGBTQ and intersex patients either in the clinic or at home via immersive telemedicine. 

Borderless Health Care Group, Borderless LGBT’s parent company, provides a wide range of healthcare and wellness solutions to patients globally that includes general health, women’s health, men’s health, chronic disease management and pet care. But the idea behind Borderless LGBT came from the sense that the LGBTQ and intersex community is the most underserved, and there was a need for a platform that provides healthcare and wellness services to the community without any judgment.

“The goal is to democratize LGBT healthcare knowledge and services via the implementation of (an) LGBT clinic-of-the-future and technology-enabled LGBT home health,” Lani Santiago, vice president of the Borderless Healthcare Group’s Chairman’s Office, told the Washington Blade. “We have doctors from the U.S., Europe, Australia, (Southeast) Asia, India, etc.”

COVID-19 — and associated lockdowns, loss of employment and loved ones, the sudden overflow of patients and isolation from friends and family — affected mental health in India. This trend, however, is not new for the LGBTQ and intersex community.

Community members in a largely conservative Indian society have faced mental health issues all their lives, and researchers around the world have said the LGBTQ and intersex people face more mental health issues than heterosexuals. The stigma and prejudice in society have a different impact on the community. 

Borderless LGBT in India, among other things, is providing mental health services for the LGBTQ and intersex community. The cloud-based platform is also providing health services for HIV, STD, sexual wellness, chronic disease management and family planning for the LGBTQ and intersex community in India. 

Borderless LGBT is currently providing health care services in Bengaluru, the capital of Karnataka state in southern India. But in an interview with the Blade, Santiago said that the company has planned to roll out the services in other key cities in the country. 

Santiago said that the traditional medical services that general hospitals offer do not cater to the specific needs of the LGBTQ and intersex community. In addition, the inefficiency and inherent conflict of interest in the traditional medical fraternity will take a long time to serve them. 

“Borderless LGBT aims to create a new online-to-offline delivery channel to provide LGBT community unparalleled access to the best-of-class LGBT health and wellness knowledge and services where local doctors interested in LGBT healthcare can have instant access to global experts to support the management of their LGBT patients,” said Santiago. “The traditional provision of services is usually dependent on the knowledge and experience of the local doctor which in India, LGBT healthcare is still at its infancy.”

A 2021 report from National AIDS Control Organization, a division of India’s Health and Family Welfare Ministry, notes 2.4 million people are living with HIV in the country. 

Stigma, societal pressure, and shame have pushed gay men underground, and not many of them seek help regarding HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Borderless LGBT and other innovative healthcare solutions can provide an opportunity for patients from the community to seek medical attention without facing discrimination, shame, or stigma with their privacy intact. 

“Borderless LGBT is positioned to support the local doctors with the latest knowledge in LGBT healthcare via a new online-to-offline global ‘co-care’ model with global experts,” said Santiago. “Thus, bringing the best of proximal local care and the best of global matured LGBT healthcare knowledge to the LGBT community.”

Vinay Chandran, executive director of Swabhava, an NGO in India that supports the LGBTQ and intersex community with health and advocacy, told the Blade that a generation of LGBTQ and intersex people who have not benefitted from public health services might hopefully benefit from these cloud-based efforts. 

One concern that Chandran has is how people outside of urban areas will access these services. Chandran, however, believes time will tell whether Borderless LGBT’s efforts to ensure adequate health care outreach will prove successful.

“LGBT+ people have had personal and historical encounters with healthcare that range from the ignorant to the violent,” he said. “It is to the credit of a huge number of activists and legal challenges that the National Medical Commission of India have required a rewriting of curriculum and contemplate disciplinary action for those practising conversion therapy. However, implementation fo such measures will take time. Meanwhile, if the working LGBT+ population can have access to such clinics, I’m sure it will benefit quite a few of them.”

Amrita Sarkar of Alliance India, another NGO that works to bolster care for Indians with HIV, echoed Chandran’s concerns about lack of access to cloud-based health care outside of urban areas. Sarkar during an interview with the Blade encouraged Borderless LGBT to work with local LGBTQ and intersex organizations to raise awareness of these platforms.

Ankush Kumar is a freelance 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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Maldives activists say new president won’t bring LGBTQ rights to country

Island nation is a popular tourist destination

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(Photo by OLA24/Bigstock)

Maldives, a Southeast Asian country that is a popular tourist destination, on Sept. 30 elected a new president.

Doctor Mohamed Muizzu, leader of the Progressive Party of Maldives and the president-elect, secured 54 percent of the total votes. He defeated incumbent President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of the Maldivian Democratic Party. 

Maldives does not offer any rights to the LGBTQ community. 

Consensual same-sex sexual activities are prohibited in the country under the Penal Code 2014. Same-sex couples can face up to eight years in prison and 100 lashes (for both men and women.) The penal code works under the Islamic laws that criminalize same-sex relationships in the country.

Solih in 2019 started to work on human rights concerns and LGBTQ issues in the country, but the previous government abandoned the work after Islamic extremists pressured them. Solih did nothing to prevent extremist groups from attacking the country’s democratic institutions.

“I believe for ordinary liberals it would be safer with the new government because when the Progressive Party of Maldives ruled before, they did not get personal with activists who were not connected to the opposition. They were busy fighting with each other,” said Ulfa M. Fahmee, a humanist creator and LGBTQ rights activist. “Now the ruling party wants international rights groups to see they value democratic values, so they don’t openly arrest opposition activists, instead they attacked those viewed as promoting liberal values.” 

“(The) new president is already focused on bringing economic equality unlike previous government who sent islanders to pray for rain when the poor ran out of stored rainwater in the islands making Maldivians believe they have to sacrifice LGBTQ and irreligious for God to get necessities instead of asking from government,” added Fahmee.

Fahmee was forced to flee Maldives because of safety concerns after state-sponsored news outlets accused her of blasphemy. 

She said the Maldivian Democratic Party ran a hate campaign against her while the opposition party was protesting against government officials who were caught doing a blasphemous report. 

Fahmee told the Washington Blade that Maldivian media is not allowed to post pictures until a conviction is secured, but the press published her pictures while she was still under investigation, putting her in danger of being harmed by extremists. With pain and anger in her words, Fahmee told the Blade that local police still have not returned any of her and her family’s confiscated electronics. 

Fahmee is currently living in exile.

“We don’t have an openly LGBTQ community in Maldives, but the current govt enjoyed inciting hate and violence against ordinary liberals who were seen as part of LGBTQ,” said Fahmee. “Whenever privileged elites were accused of any un-Islamic activity, (the) MDP government did hate campaigns against ordinary liberals and jailed many people while at the same time sending human rights fraud reports to international rights organizations blaming Islamists for the hate spreading. Islamists are usually after the government officials so govt tries to divert hate targeted at them by encouraging more state sponsored hate against liberals.”

LGBTQ activists have faced several challenges in the Maldives, including disappearances and death. 

Radical Islamic extremists in June 2012 killed blogger, LGBTQ activist and journalist Ismail Khilath Rasheed. Authorities did not investigate the murder.

According to a report published by The Edition, a local Maldivian media outlet, former President Mohamed Nasheed and his newly formed party will be part of the incoming government and will take oath on Nov. 17 with Muizzu.

“There is going to be no change as a consequence of Dr. Mohamed Muizzu being president,” said Shakyl Ahmed, an LGBTQ activist. “Some say that it will get worse because ‘salaf’ (a group of sheikhs) is on the new president’s side, but the new president definitely won’t make things better for us.”

Ahmed told the Blade he is not hopeful about the new government. He said that the new president doesn’t change the lives of the LGBTQ community in the country.

“Most LGBT people in Maldives are Muslim, so most of them don’t support gay rights in Maldives, even if they are gay,” said Ahmed. “However, they do engage in sexual acts with the same sex in secret. There are a few of us who support gay rights and we are trying to progressively change people’s minds.”

Kit Died, another LGBTQ activist, told the Blade the president-elect will make the situation worse for the LGBTQ community in Maldives. Died added he is known to have connections with extremist factions. 

“We have no support from the government at all — our existence itself is a crime — so all crimes against queer folk in this country get ignored,” said Kit. “Queer people get blackmailed, robbed, and sexually assaulted regularly here with no investigation or police report.” 

“The Anti-LGBTQIA+ narrative in Maldives is upheld by the constitution,” added Kit. “The Maldives constitution is one of the few places in the world that mandates all its citizens to be Sunni Muslims. This creates a paradox for citizens who were born into the religion and want to leave or happen to be queer. There’s no space for queerness in the Maldives’ specific variety of Islam, which is stricter than most in practice thanks to the tiny population that is concentrated in very small cities.”

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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Pakistan resumes issuing ID cards to transgender people

Federal Shariat Court in June ruled against trans rights law

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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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UN human rights experts condemn Taliban over treatment of LGBTQ Afghans

Extremist group regained control of country on Aug. 15, 2021

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Two men in Kabul, Afghanistan, in July 2021 (Photo courtesy of Dr. Ahmad Qais Munzahim)

United Nations human rights experts on Monday sharply criticized the Taliban over its treatment of LGBTQ and intersex people and other groups in Afghanistan.

“Two years ago, the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan. Since then, the policies they have imposed on the Afghan population have resulted in a continuous, systematic and shocking rescinding of a multitude of human rights, including the rights to education, work and freedoms of expression, assembly and association. Consistent credible reports of summary executions and acts tantamount to enforced disappearances, widespread arbitrary detention, torture, and ill treatment, as well as arbitrary displacement have caused increased concern,” reads a statement that Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ and intersex issues, and others signed. “The hardest hit are women and girls, ethnic, religious and other minorities, people with disabilities, displaced persons, LGBTQ+ persons, human rights defenders and other civil society actors, journalists, artists, educators and former government and security officials.”

“Despite reassurances by the Taliban de facto authorities that any restrictions, particularly in terms of access to education would be temporary, the facts on the ground have demonstrated an accelerated, systematic and all engulfing system of segregation, marginalization and persecution,” the statement further notes.

The Taliban regained control of Afghanistan on Aug. 15, 2021. The last American forces withdrew from the country 15 days later.

The State Department in its 2022 human rights report notes the Taliban “criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, and representatives routinely enforced this position through violence, intimidation, harassment and targeted killings.” 

“Under sharia, conviction of same-sex sexual conduct is punishable by death, flogging or imprisonment,” reads the report. “Individual Taliban members made public statements reiterating that their interpretation of sharia includes the death penalty for homosexuality.”

The report further notes the Taliban “takeover of the country 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 August 2021. LGBTQI+ persons faced increased threats, attacks, sexual assaults, and discrimination from Taliban members, strangers, neighbors and family members.”

Outright International and Human Rights Watch in January 2022 released a report that includes interviews with LGBTQ and intersex Afghans who the Taliban have targeted. They include a 20 year-old man who said Taliban members “loaded him into a car” at a checkpoint and “took him to another location where four men whipped and then gang raped him over the course of eight hours.” The report also notes the Taliban beat a transgender woman in Kabul, the Afghan capital, and “shaved her eyebrows with a razor” before they “dumped her on the street in men’s clothes and without a cellphone.”

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