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Activists around the world welcome Pope Francis’ comments against criminalization laws

Church teaching about homosexuality remains unchanged

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Pope Francis (Photo by palinchak via Bigstock)

Activists around the world say Pope Francis’ comments against criminalization laws are a milestone for the global LGBTQ and intersex rights movement.

Toni Reis, president of Aliança Nacional LGBTI+, a Brazilian LGBTQ and intersex advocacy group, told the Washington Blade that Francis’ comments are “a message that needs to be assimilated by at least 70 countries that still criminalize homosexuality in some way, including 11 countries in which the death penalty can be applied.”

Reis and his husband, David Harrad, in 2017 baptized their three adopted children at a Catholic cathedral in Curitiba, a city in southern Brazil. Reis later received a letter on official Vatican letterhead that said Francis “wishes you happiness, invoking for your family the abudance of divine graces in order to live steadfastly and faithfully as good children of God and of the church.”

“We are unable to find in the recorded words of Jesus Christ, on whom the Christian faith is founded, any reference to homosexuality as a sin,” Reis told the Blade. “There is no longer room for deliberately decontextualized interpretations of the Old Testament and the books of certain Apostles in this sense.”

Francis during an exclusive interview with the Associated Press on Jan. 24 described criminalization laws as “unjust” and said “being homosexual is not a crime.”

The pontiff acknowledged some Catholic bishops support criminalization laws and other statutes that discriminate against LGBTQ and intersex people. Francis told the Associated Press that cultural backgrounds contribute to these attitudes, and added “bishops in particular need to undergo a process of change to recognize the dignity of everyone.”

Toni Reis, second from left, with his husband, David Harrad, third from left, and their children after their baptism at a cathedral in Curitiba, Brazil, on April 23, 2017. Reis has received a letter in which Pope Francis congratulated him and his husband, David Harrad, for baptizing their three adopted children. (Photo courtesy of Toni Reis)

Chantale Wong, the U.S. director of the Asian Development Bank who was born in Shanghai, is the first openly lesbian American ambassador.

Wong’s aunt and uncle enrolled her in a Catholic bording school in Macau, which at the time was a Portuguese colony, after she fled China with her grandmother in 1960. Wong was baptized and given the name Chantale after St. Jane Frances de Chantale.

She later attended an all-girls Catholic high school in Guam.

“He is definitely my pope,” tweeted Wong on Jan. 25.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, who is openly gay, in a tweet thanked Francis “for your strong and clear words against the criminalization of LGBTIQ+ persons in the world.” Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ and intersex issues who traveled to Cambodia last month, echoed Bettel.

“Criminalization based on sexual orientation is contrary to international human rights law,” tweeted Madrigal-Borloz on Jan. 25. “I welcome this recognition by (the pope.)”

Homosexuality is the ‘real sin’

The Vatican’s tone towards LGBTQ and intersex issues has softened since Francis assumed the papacy in 2013.

Francis — who vehemently opposed a marriage equality bill in his native Argentina before then-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed it into law in 2010 — a decade later publicly backed civil unions for same-sex couples.

The pontiff in 2013 said gay men and lesbians should not be marginalized. 

Francis in 2016 later said the Roman Catholic Church should “ask forgiveness” from gay people over the way it has treated them. The pontiff in 2017 compared politicians who use hate speech against LGBTQ and intersex people and other minority groups to Adolf Hitler.

The Vatican in 2020 gave money to a group of transgender sex workers in Italy who were struggling to survive during the coronavirus pandemic. Francis in 2021 named Juan Carlos Cruz, a gay Chilean man who is a survivor of clergy sex abuse, to a commission that advises him on protecting children from pedophile priests.

Francis last year during several of his weekly papal audiences met with trans people who were living at a Rome church. 

Church teachings on homosexuality and gender identity remain unchanged despite these overtures. 

Francis during the Associated Press interview referred to LGBTQ and intersex issues within the context of “sin.” The pontiff later sought to clarify the comment.

“When I said it is a sin, I was simply referring to Catholic moral teaching, which says that every sexual act outside of marriage is a sin,” wrote Francis in a handwritten letter he sent to the Rev. James Martin, editor of Outreach, a website for LGBTQ and intersex Catholics, on Jan. 27.

Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para Todes, a Puerto Rican LGBTQ and intersex rights group, during an interview with the Blade acknowledged Francis “is giving a message that criminalization of the LGBTQ+ community must be fought.” Serrano added, however, the pontiff’s comments do not change church teachings.

“There is no change in dogma, there is no change in doctrine and nothing has changed in the catechism of the Catholic Church. Everything remains the same,” Serrano told the Blade. “As long as all that remains the same, there is no change.”

Serrano further stressed Francis’ categorization of homosexuality as a “sin” is paradoxical.

“Homophobia: That is the real sin,” said Serrano.

Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para Todes, a Puerto Rican LGBT advocacy group, shows his tattoo that pays tribute to the LGBT Puerto Ricans who died inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., during an interview in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on July 7, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBTQ and intersex rights group, on Tuesday noted to the Blade that he is Catholic.

Uganda is among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

Singapore, Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Botswana, Bhutan and India have decriminalized homosexuality in recent years.  

Mugisha said Sexual Minorities Uganda welcomes Francis’ statement, which he made ahead of his trip to Congo and South Sudan. (Consensual same-sex sexual activity is legal in Congo, while South Sudan continues to criminalize it.) 

“Being Catholic, I know the Catholic Church will respect the pope’s views and I hope the church in Africa starts working with us towards discrimination of homosexuality,” Mugisha told the Blade.

ILGA World Co-Secretaries General Luz Elena Aranda and Tuisina Ymania Brown in response to Francis’ comments said “such a simple statement has now the potential to initiate a much-needed change and will provide relief to millions of persons in our communities across the world.” ILGA World Executive Director Julia Ehrt, like Serrano, said Vatican doctrine towards LGBTQ and intersex people needs to change if the pontiff’s position against criminalization laws will have any meaningful impact. 

“We urge the Holy See to turn these words into concrete action,” said Ehrt. “The Catholic Church and its institutions can and should play an active role in supporting decriminalization efforts across the world and within the United Nations and multilateral fora, where demands to scrap these profoundly wrong laws have long been reiterated.”

Outright International, a New York-based global LGBTQ and intersex rights group, in its response to Francis’ comments also noted church teachings.

“We welcome Pope Francis’ message of inclusion and acceptance,” said Outright International in a statement to the Blade. “Discrimination, persecution and marginalization are common experiences for LGBTIQ individuals and communities around the world. In some countries, many are subjected to conversion practices and its lifelong physical and emotional damages, which are often performed and sanctioned in the name of church teachings.” 

“Religious leaders have a storied history of perpetuating misconceptions about same-sex relations, promoting them as threats to society. As such, LGBTIQ people are subject to violent attacks, harassment and social stigmatization. The church’s actions have also influenced efforts to oppose the advancement of human rights for LGBTIQ people,” added Outright International. “Our hope is that the pope’s statement will foster respect, dignity and conversations that will lead to change in attitudes and lasting legal protections in this arduous journey for full equality.”

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Africa

Zimbabwean vice president reiterates strong opposition to LGBTQ rights

Constantino Chiwenga condemned advocacy group’s scholarship

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Zimbabwean Vice President Constantino Chiwenga (Screen capture via SABC News YouTube)

Zimbabwean Vice President Constantino Chiwenga has expressed concerns over what he has described as foreign recruitment of LGBTQ people in the country.

Chiwenga on Feb. 15 described Zimbabwe as a Christian country and therefore does not have room to accommodate those who identify as LGBTQ. His comments were in response to Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe and the advocacy group’s annual scholarship program that provides funds to people who identify as LGBTQ.

“The government of Zimbabwe strongly and firmly rejects and denounces as unlawful, un-Christian, anti-Zimbabwean and un-African, insidious attempts by foreign interests to entice, lure and recruit Zimbabwe’s less privileged, but able students into lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activities and malpractices through offers of educational scholarships,” he said.

“Zimbabwe has legislated against all such deviances, making any offers predicated on the same aberrations both unlawful and criminal, and a grave and gross affront on our national values and ethos as a Christian nation,” he added.

Chiwenga said such scholarships are a national threat and highlighted that anyone who identifies as LGBTQ shall not be enrolled at any educational institution.

“To that end, government sees such scholarship offers as a direct challenge on its authority, and thus will not hesitate to take appropriate measures to enforce national laws, and to protect and defend national values,” he said.

“Our schools and institutions of higher learning will not entertain applicants, let alone enroll persons associated with such alien, anti-life, un-African and un-Christian values which are being promoted and cultivated by, as well as practiced in decadent societies with whom we share no moral or cultural affinities,” added Chiwenga.

The vice president also said Zimbabwe shall not be influenced by any country to change its stance with regards to the LGBTQ community.

“Zimbabwe is a sovereign, African state with definite laws and values which typify it, cutting it apart from other mores,” said Chiwenga. “Young Zimbabweans who qualify for enrolment into tertiary institutions here and elsewhere, should approach government departments tasked to give grants and scholarship support to deserving cases. They should never be tempted to trade or sell their souls for such abominable and devilish offers.”

Activists and commentators have sharply criticized Chiwenga’s comments, saying people’s sexual lives should not be of public concern.

“This scholarship has been going on for years and many graduates have been supported and gainfully employed,” noted GALZ Programs Manager Samuel Matsikure. “In the 90s it showed LGBT (people) who were bullied, outed and faced harassment would drop out of school, hence, it was important to provide them with basic education so they can support themselves in life.”

Stacey Chihera, a social commentator, said what consenting adult individuals decide to do behind closed doors should never be up for public discussion. 

“I wish this entitlement about individual sexuality was applied to corruption, service delivery and infrastructure development,” said Chihera. “What consenting adult individuals decide to do behind closed doors with their private parts should never be up for discussion! Not even by the government.”

Namatai Kwekweza a lawyer and an activist, said the vice president was scapegoating the real issues on the ground that are affecting the country on a daily basis.

“The facts being a scapegoat is necessary for an underperforming and evil government that will overzealously and hypothetically talk about morality and Christian values except when it comes to corruption, looting, genocide, abductions, torture, elections fraud, abuse of office, sexual abuse,” said Kwekweza. “These leaders must be seen more, major more and heard loudest in matters of public accountability and returning stolen loot, than in matters of moral grandstanding of which they have no moral authority in the first place.”

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in Zimbabwe with up to 14 years in prison.

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World

ILGA World report highlights digital divide impact on LGBTQ, intersex people

‘Accessing Connection’ released this week

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(Photo by DimaBerlin via Bigstock)

A new ILGA World report has found the digital divide impacts LGBTQ and intersex people in specific ways, and that listening to their stories is essential to building meaningful digital inclusion for all.

The report, titled “Accessing Connection,” is the first of its kind to look at the complex interplay between disparities in digital access and the unique experiences of LGBTQ and intersex people. Researchers mapped the complexities of the digital divide across perspectives of gender, race and migration status, geographic regions, urban-rural contexts, indigeneity and disability.

“LGBTI people have found the online space to be revolutionary,” said ILGA World Communications Manager Daniele Paletta, who edited the report. “However, these possibilities are not equally available for everyone. To date, 2.6 billion people across the world remain offline.”

The report found that LGBTQ and intersex people face a number of barriers to digital access, including:

  • The cost of data, location and having suitable devices and infrastructures
  • Economic precarity due to difficulties finding employment, harassment, societal stigma and hostile legislation
  • Online platforms that are not designed for everyone in mind, such as those that lack inclusive design practices or that predominate in a few languages
  • Fear of online harassment and violence
  • Surveillance and limitations to freedom of expression

Despite these challenges, LGBTQ and intersex organizations are working to find ways to connect with their communities online. The report highlights a number of examples of how organizations are using technology to promote digital inclusion, such as:

  • Promoting rural access to internet services and digital security training
  • Mobilizing to fight against hostile legislation
  • Translating LGBTI-related materials into local languages
  • Harnessing the relative safety of online spaces to conduct work or gather the community

“We know that being online is not the only way to serve our populations,” said ILGA World Co-Secretary General Luz Elena Aranda. “And yet, ensuring meaningful and safe connectivity could open up a whole new avenue of opportunities, especially for those whose voices the digital divide contributes to maintaining unheard. Reaching out to those systemically marginalized — by the digital divide or otherwise — remains at the core of the promise to leave no one behind.”

The “Accessing Connection” report is a call to action, urging stakeholders to recognize and address the unique challenges faced by LGBTQ and intersex people in the digital age and championing a more inclusive, connected future for all.

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World

Out in the World: LGBTQ news from Europe and Asia

Russia investigating Duolingo for allegedly spreading ‘LGBTQ propaganda’

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(Los Angeles Blade graphic)

RUSSIA

Opening screen on the popular learning app that teaches more than 40 languages to more than 60 million users worldwide. It has been accused of allegedly spreading “LGBTQ propaganda” by the Russian government media watchdog agency. (Screenshot)

The Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media agency, abbreviated as Roskomnadzor, has launched an investigation into the language learning app Duolingo for allegedly spreading “LGBTQ propaganda.”

The popular learning app teaches more than 40 languages to more than 60 million users worldwide.

Russian media news outlet Novaya Gazeta reported that a complaint, filed by a group Radetel, based in Novosibirsk in central Russia, and claims on its social media and website that it is on a mission to protect “public morality, culture and traditional values,” accused the learning app of violations of Article 5 the Russian “on the protection of children from information harmful to their health and development” law which specifies the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations as detrimental to children’s health and development.”

Russian state media outlet TASS reported that Roskomnadzor confirmed that the agancy would be investigating Duolingo for potential “distribution of information that promotes LGBTQ.”

For its part as defined on its website, Duolingo states: “Duolingo believes deeply in diversity and representation. This made it a no-brainer to include all types of characters of different ages, ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations.”

The app’s statement goes on reading: 

“The second reason is our learners. Something really unique about Duolingo is the extremely vast and diverse audience for our content: Language learners of all ages, from all around the world. Yes, that’s a lot of people. And with such a broad base of learners, we have a responsibility to reflect and relate to the experiences of all kinds of people, LGBTQIA+ folks included.

Of course, characters are also much more compelling when they’re relatable, not only because of their dreams and their flaws but also who they love. So when we create Stories, which are written first in English and then adapted to other languages, we aim to make our content entertaining and relatable for learners worldwide. This is a fun and oftentimes difficult challenge. We’re proud to have our characters, especially our LGBTQ characters, help us do that.”

Radetel, which referred to members of the LGBTQ community as “sodomites” in its complaint to Roskomnadzor, said that “outraged” parents had brought Duolingo’s LGBTQ “propaganda” to its attention, adding that they had said they didn’t know how to explain the sentences to their primary school-age children “without traumatizing them,” Novaya Gazeta reported.

An annual meeting of judges of the Russian Supreme Court and all courts of general and arbitration jurisdiction, the leadership of the Supreme Court’s Judicial Department and representatives of federal authorities in February 2023. (Photo courtesy of the Russian government)

(Human Rights Watch) – Russian courts have issued the first known extremism convictions arising from the 2023 Supreme Court ruling designating the “international LGBT movement” as extremist, Human Rights Watch said on Feb. 14. The Supreme Court ruling, which was handed down on Nov. 30 but became public only in mid-January 2024, indicates that many more convictions may follow. 

The Supreme Court ruling also declared the rainbow flag a forbidden symbol of the “LGBT movement.” Displaying the flag is the basis for administrative penalties in at least three cases that courts have tried in recent weeks. In late January, a court in Nizhny Novgorod sentenced a woman to five days detention for wearing rainbow-colored earrings after an individual accosted her and her friend in a cafe. Also in late January, a judge in Volgograd region handed down a fine over a rainbow flag published on a social media page. In early February, a court in Saratov fined a woman for posting a rainbow flag on social media.

“The Supreme Court decision opened the floodgates to allow arbitrary prosecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people, along with anyone who defends their rights or expresses solidarity with them,” said Tanya Lokshina, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “For years, Russian authorities tried to erase LGBT visibility, and now they have criminalized it.”

At least three groups supporting LGBT rights have shut down their operations for fear of prosecution. Other consequences of the ruling have included a series of police raids of gay clubs, incidents of self-censorship, and an uptick in requests for legal advice from remaining LGBT support groups, which have now turned to working clandestinely. 

The Supreme Court ruling and prosecutions flowing from it are discriminatory, violate a wide range of rights, and should be overturned, Human Rights Watch said.

Under Russian criminal law, a person found guilty of displaying extremist group symbols faces up to 15 days in detention for the first offense and up to four years in prison for a repeat offenseParticipating in or financing an extremist organization is punishable by up to 12 years in prison. The authorities may include individuals suspected of involvement with an extremist organization in the countrywide “list of extremists” and freeze their bank accounts. People deemed to be involved with an extremist organization are barred from running for public office. Draft legislation further expanding the notion of “justifying extremism” has passed first reading in Russia’s Parliament.

The Supreme Court’s perverse decision to accept the “international public LGBT movement” as a fictional defendant in this case was compounded by their denial of all requests by LGBT activists to participate, followed by the claim that “the defendant party failed to appear.” The court also refused to consider numerous appeals lodged by LGBT rights activists, saying that only the parties to the case had the right to appeal the ruling. By using the twisted legal fiction that there was an identifiable defendant called the “international LGBT movement” to contest the case, the Supreme Court denied all Russian LGBT persons and their allies directly impacted by the decision any due process rights, including by refusing to disclose the text of the judgment or reasons for the decision. 

The text of the ruling, which was later seen by a regional media outlet in the course of a court case and published in January, states that the rainbow flag is the movement’s symbol. Because Russian law enforcement practice treats even old social media posts that are still available online as grounds for prosecution, thousands of people, and most likely more,who have posted the rainbow flag over the years face the risk of prosecution. The ruling states that 281 “active participants” in the movement have been personally identified, but it does not clarify how or by whom.

The Supreme Court ruling is the most recent example of authorities’ long record of misusing Russia’s broad and vague anti-extremism legislation to prosecute peaceful critics and members of certain religious groups, Human Rights Watch said. Hundreds of people have been wrongfully prosecuted under criminal extremism legislation, according to the SOVA Research Center and the list of political prisoners released by prominent human rights group Memorial. 

Since a court banned three organizations affiliated with political opposition leader Aleksey Navalny as “extremist” in 2021, Navalny and five of his supporters have been sentenced to prison on a range of extremism charges for legitimate activism, while dozens more have received fines and short-term jail sentences. Six members of Vesna, a democratic youth movement, have been in pretrial custody since June 2023 on various spurious charges, including extremism. Hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been jailed since the organization was banned as “extremist” in 2017.

Editor’s Note: On Feb. 16, it was announced that opposition leader Aleksey Navalny had died in a Russian Penal Camp. 

The Russian Federal Prison Service said early Feb. 16 that Navalny felt unwell after a walk and lost consciousness. An ambulance arrived, and its crew tried to rehabilitate him but was unsuccessful, it added.

Navalny was serving a 19-year sentence on charges of extremism, and in December was moved from a different prison to the highest-security level facility in the country near the Arctic Circle. The “special regime” penal colony prison in the town of Kharp, which is about 1,200 miles northeast of Moscow, is in a remote area known for its severe winters.

Navalny has been imprisoned since January 2021, when he returned to Russia after recovering from a poisoning that he blamed on Putin, who has denied trying to kill Navalny with a nerve agent.

The Supreme Court ruling has drawn strong criticism internationally. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights deplored the ruling, stating that “the law must never be used to perpetuate inequality and discrimination,” and saying that Russia should repeal laws that discriminate against LGBTQ people.

Five U.N. human rights experts reminded Russian authorities that under international human rights law, peaceful advocacy and expression of sexual orientation and gender identity can neither be considered “extremist” nor legitimate grounds for administrative and criminal prosecution.

“The ruling has no basis in reality; it is filled with conspiracy theories, false and unsubstantiated claims, and hateful stereotypes; and it seeks to impose ‘traditional values’ ideology through repressive criminal law,” Lokshina said. “The only way to remedy this travesty of justice is to vacate the recent convictions and reverse the absurd ‘extremism’ designation.”

POLAND

Wojciech Szelag (TVP screenshot)

BY ROB SALERNO — A newscaster on Poland’s public television service delivered an apology for his and the network’s previous vicious and dehumanizing coverage of LGBTQ people and issues, after Poland’s new government replaced the far-right editorial board of the broadcaster.

News host Wojciech Szelag acknowledged that TVP had frequently demonized LGBTQ people and delivered his apology ahead of a segment in which he interviewed two queer activists.

“For many years in Poland, shameful words have been directed at numerous individuals simply because they chose to determine for themselves who they are and whom they love,” Szelag said. “LGBT+ people are not an ideology, but people, specific names, faces, relatives, and friends. All these people should hear the word sorry from this place today. This is where I apologize.”

Poland’s new center-left government took office in December, ending eight years of government by the extremely right-wing Law and Justice Party that strongly opposed LGBTQ rights. The new government under Prime Minister Donald Tusk has moved to reshape institutions that the previous government had filled with party cronies, which caused controversy when the government fired the TVP management. TVP had long been accused of having become a mouthpiece for the Law and Justice Party.

Some liberals accused the government of repeating the mistakes of the right, but the government insists it is simply trying to restore editorial balance.

Bart Staszewski, one of the LGBTQ activists that was interviewed on the program said the apology was evidence that Poland is moving in the right direction.

“Today, first time in Polish TV, after eight years of right-wing government, the LGBT+ activists appeared in live broadcast. I was seating there and heard journalist shaking voice. He made an apology after years of portraying LGBT-people  a threat to Polish nation in the same studio. I was moved. Apology an important part of reconciliation. This is Poland I want to fight for… Thank you,” Staszewski wrote on X.

Straszewski later posted an image of an old broadcast in which Szelag said “LGBT ideology destroys family,” as evidence of how far the network had come.

Tusk has made several promises to the LGBTQ community as part of his election platform and coalition government agreement. He’s promised to institute a hate speech law, legalize same-sex civil unions and legalize abortion — all issues that were strongly rejected by the previous government. 

It’s not clear at present when or if these proposals will become law, as the Law and Justice Party still holds the presidency with its veto power, at least until elections expected next May.

UNITED KINGDOM

19-year-old Summer Betts-Ramsey appeared before a magistrate at Willesden Magistrates Court on Feb. 13, charged with attempted murder and possession of an deadly weapon in public after she allegedly stabbed an 18-year-old transgender woman at who was with friends headed to the Harrow Leisure Center for a roller-skating party.

Metropolitan Police Detective Inspector Nicola Hannant, who is leading the investigation, said:

“This was a shocking and violent attack and we continue to support the victim and her family as she recovers from her injuries. At this stage, we are treating this as a transphobic hate crime and we know this will cause significant concern.

Since the incident occurred, we have been working tirelessly to identify those responsible and are making good progress with our investigation.

We have already arrested four people however we continue to appeal for anyone who may have been in the area or who believes they have further information to come forward and speak to us. We have increased police patrols and would encourage people to approach these officers with any information or concerns.”

According to Hannant, the victim was subjected to transphobic slurs before being stabbed 14 times. She was rushed to hospital for treatment and subsequently discharged.

The attack comes just over a year after a pair of 15-year-olds stabbed trans teen Brianna Ghey, 16, to death in a park near her home in Birchwood. The teens, Scarlett Jenkinson and Eddie Ratcliffe, now 16, were both handed life sentences earlier this month.

The Metropolitan Police have dedicated LGBTQ points of contact across London who can offer advice and support. Their contact details can be found here: (Link)

IRAQ

The transgender blogger and make-up artist known as ‘Simsim,’ shown in this interview with Iraqi media outlet Al Walaa in 2020, spoke candidly about the threats he faced regularly because of his appearance. (YouTube screenshot)

An unnamed security official with the Al-Qadisiyah Governorate, told Iraqi media outlet Shafaq News that a trans blogger was killed after being repeatedly stabbed in the center of the city of Al Diwaniyah, the capital city of the governorate that is located roughly 100 miles southeast of the country’s capital city of Baghdad.

The police official told Shafaq News: “Simsim, 28-years-old was killed by unknown assailants with several sharp knife stabs near the mural roundabout in the center of Diwaniyah city.” The official went on to note “the killers escaped to an unidentified location and the forensic team took the body to complete the legal formalities.”

Iraq has witnessed a series of assassinations of trans people, Shafaq News noted. One of the most prominent cases was the murder of NOOR BM, a popular TikTok figure who was shot dead by an unknown gunman in Baghdad in September 2023.

Last August, Iraq’s Communications and Media Commission has ordered media outlets and social media companies that operate in the country to refer to homosexuality as “sexual deviance.”

Homosexuality is legal in Iraq, but violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity remains commonplace in the country.

JAPAN

(Photo courtesy of Tacaquito Taqui Usui)

In a landmark ruling last week, the Okayama Family Court’s Tsuyama Branch recognized a trans man’s petition to legally change his gender without having first undergone sterilization.

Japanese media outlet The Mainichi reported that the plaintiff, 50-year-old Tacaquito Usui, a farmer from a rural area of the prefecture of Okayama, legally change his gender without having first undergoing sterilization, after the Supreme Court’s presiding judge, Yukihiko Imasaki, ruled the requirement unconstitutional this past October.

But while the Supreme Court did issue a ruling on sterilization surgery, the high court is re-evaluating the requirement that a person’s genitals must conform in appearance with those of the gender they identify with.

The Okayama court judged that the man fulfilled the appearance criterion, the same conclusion it reached in his first petition, due to factors including his having undergone hormone therapy.

The Mainichi reported Usui, operates a farm in the village of Shinjo, where he lives with his 46-year-old partner and her son, aged 13. With Usui’s gender now legally recognized, the pair will be able to fulfill their long-held wish to marry.

“I want to thank my family. I feel a new life is beginning,” Usui said in a press conference after the decision.

Usui was assigned as female at birth and has said that he felt uncomfortable being treated as such from a young age. After becoming an adult, he was diagnosed with gender identity disorder. Usui told reporters the latest outcome “left me feeling society has changed” and that he is “moved by the progress that has been made.”

Additional reporting by Rob Salerno, the BBC, PinkNewsUK, Human Rights Watch, Novaya Gazeta, Agence France-Presse, The Mainichi, Shafaq News and Euronews 24.

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