Showing posts with label LGBTQ Rights. Show all posts
Showing posts with label LGBTQ Rights. Show all posts

December 30, 2019

LGBT Rights World Wide Are in Danger But The U.S. is Now Part of That Problem

                            Image result for Daniil Grachev, an LGBTQ rights activist, is arrested by riot police during a pride event in St. Petersburg, 2013.

Over the years that followed, I met LGBTQ refugees who’d fled ISIS in Syria, queer teens who escaped gang violence in El Salvador, and doctors in Japan trying to help win acceptance for transgender people. In retrospect, it seems obvious that these were stories that deserved to be told. But back in 2013, few big media companies had specialist reporters devoted to LGBTQ news in the US, let alone reporters trying to write about the issue around the world. 

The US and the world were changing fast. Former President Barack Obama made promoting LGBTQ rights a key priority of US foreign policy during his first term in office, even before he came out in support of marriage equality. In June 2013, the US Supreme Court ruled that the federal government had to recognize marriage for same-sex couples. Four days later, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed legislation that became known as the “gay propaganda ban,” and sparked a global outcry.

Nearly 80 countries considered homosexuality a crime when the decade began — anti-LGBTQ violence and discrimination were common in many more — and the issue was almost completely ignored in international diplomacy. Now at the decade’s end, more than 30 countries have established marriage equality, transgender people have gained legal protections in several places for the first time, and a social revolution has brought LGBTQ people out of the closet across the globe.

This was the decade when it became clear that “gay rights are human rights,” as then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton said in a 2011 UN speech. But it was also the decade when the very notion that humans have universal rights came under attack. A new generation of anti-democratic leaders — including Clinton’s 2016 opponent, Donald Trump — declared war on the basic human rights framework put in place after World War II. In many cases, these leaders used rapid LGBTQ advances as ammunition to turn citizens against the principles of democracy itself. 

On my first trip as a reporter for BuzzFeed News, it became crystal clear to me that the fight over LGBTQ rights was about something much bigger.

This was a swing through Eastern Europe in October 2013 to see what impact Russia’s new anti-LGBTQ law was having on its neighbors. The “gay propaganda ban” was technically a law prohibiting teaching children about “nontraditional relationships,” but it became a tool to intimidate activist groups and suppress any demonstration of LGBTQ rights. It also helped make anti-gay sentiment a tool of Russian foreign policy the world is still struggling with today.

My trip ended in Ukraine, which was on the verge of signing a deal to formalize ties with the European Union. The deal would have required Ukraine to accept a broad suite of human rights protections, one of which was prohibiting employment discrimination against gays and lesbians. Putin and his allies wanted to derail a Ukraine–EU alliance at all costs.

The streets of the capital, Kyiv, were plastered with billboards that said things like “Association with the EU means same-sex marriage.”

These billboards were funded by a Ukrainian businessperson with such close ties to Putin that he made the Russian president godfather to his daughter. The claim that the EU treaty would force Ukraine to recognize marriage for same-sex couples was a lie, but it was a useful distortion. The anti-gay sentiment was the perfect way to trigger broad fear among Ukrainians that the human rights norms of Western democracies would strip the country of its identity. 

“The EU will require Ukraine to expand its gay culture, and, instead of Victory Parades, gay parades will be held in Kyiv,” one top Russian lawmaker tweeted as the EU treaty signing approached.

By year’s end, the tug of war over Ukraine had ripped the country in two. When the country’s president bowed to Russian pressure and tried to walk away from the EU deal, a pro-European revolution drove him from office. In response, Russian-backed soldiers invaded and annexed one part of the country and fomented a war that still grinds on today. Across the internet in those days, propaganda sites pumped out all manner of stories claiming Russia had stepped in to protect Ukrainians from a “totalitarian” West. 

Stuart Gaffney (left) and John Lewis (center), plaintiffs in the 2008 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) case, celebrate while traveling along Market Street during San Francisco Pride Pride, two days after the US Supreme Court's landmark ruling legalizing marriage for same-sex couples nationwide, June 28, 2015.

At the same time, Russia was scrambling to pry Ukraine away from the EU, it was making preparations to host the Winter Olympics in Sochi. This provided the perfect platform for Putin to use anti-gay sentiment to attack the credibility of countries that claimed to champion human rights. The lead-up to the games was dominated in the West by boycotts from activist groups in protest of Russia’s “gay propaganda” law; Obama lent his support to the campaign by skipping the opening ceremony in February 2014. 

Putin treated this conflict as an opportunity. If countries like the US wanted to define human rights policies by supporting LGBTQ rights, he was all too happy to lead the counterattack on behalf of “traditional values.”

In one chilling incident, Russian state television broadcast a secretly recorded meeting between Russian activists and international NGOs like Human Rights Watch as part of a “documentary” warning of a “homosexual invasion.” The Russian government also used this as an excuse to step up attacks on civil society, forcing LGBTQ rights organizations to identify themselves as “foreign agents” under a law also used against environmentalists and other human rights NGOs.

Over the years that followed, I covered one authoritarian regime after another that used the anti-gay sentiment to discredit human rights advocates and Western democracies.

In Uganda, I sat through a five-hour “thanksgiving ceremony” in March 2014 after the country passed a sweeping anti-LGBTQ law, during which President Yoweri Museveni said anal sex caused the intestines to fall out and vowed to reject US money to fight HIV if it meant accepting “foreign things.” As in Russia, the Ugandan government stirred up panic about homosexuality to make it harder for NGOs to operate. Police restricted the operations of Uganda’s largest NGO, a refugee rights organization that also was part of a coalition fighting the anti-LGBTQ law, for allegedly “promoting homosexuality and lesbianism.” Authorities even raided an HIV center run by the US military. 

Assaults on LGBTQ rights — as well as moves against women’s rights and refugees — were increasingly at the center of geopolitical conflicts. Later in 2014, ISIS started promoting gruesome execution images of men it said were gay in an effort to portray itself as defending Islam against Western debauchery. In 2016, Turkey banned Istanbul Pride ceremonies — the largest Pride regularly celebrated in the Muslim world. The banishment coincided with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s broader crackdown on public protest and free speech. Inside the EU, pride parades were attacked in Poland, which is led by a far-right government.

Anti-LGBTQ crackdowns predate this decade, of course — few in the last 10 years even made headlines outside their home countries. But never before did showdowns over anti-LGBTQ rights regularly rise to the highest levels of the world’s most powerful governments and institutions.

What might have once been local conflicts turned into diplomatic incidents? The World Bank responded to Uganda’s anti-LGBTQ law by suspending a $90 million loan; the UN Security Council responded to ISIS’s executions by holding its first-ever discussion on an LGBTQ rights issue; and an alliance led by five South American nations succeeded in pushing through a UN resolution to create an LGBTQ rights officer position, defeating an opposition that included Russia and blocs of African and Islamic countries.

Conservative nations, with help from the Vatican’s diplomatic corps, were simultaneously working to strike the word “gender” from other UN resolutions, believing the term opened the door to greater LGBTQ and women’s rights protections under international law. Anti-LGBTQ countries have also attempted to water down resolutions for other human rights issues by inserting language affirming “sovereignty,” a term that suggests local values or interests trump universal rights claims.

But as with women’s rights in the 1990s, despite opposition, LGBTQ rights in the 2010s were well on their way to becoming a core part of the international human rights system by the end of the Obama administration. Obama even created the world’s first special envoy for LGBTQ rights in the State Department and issued rules to prevent recipients of US foreign aid from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

As he prepared to leave the White House, it seemed as if the world’s most powerful democratic governments would continue to look for ways to respond to threats to LGBTQ rights around the world.

And then Clinton, with help from Russia’s disinformation machine, lost the 2016 election to Trump.
When the Trump administration talks about LGBTQ rights today, it comes across as gaslighting. He makes occasional noises about protecting LGBTQ people, but he also rolled back several protections for transgender people and had his Justice Department argue it should be legal to fire people for being gay. During his 2016 campaign, Trump copied a tactic of anti-immigrant politicians in countries like France and the Netherlands, using the issue exclusively as a justification to attack the rights of another minority. The best way to protect “the gays,” Trump said at the time, was to ban Muslims from entering the US.

As for other human rights, Trump has put immigrant children in cages along the southern border, denied asylum-seekers their rights under the Geneva Conventions, and turned a blind eye to the murder of a Saudi journalist in order to preserve lucrative weapons contracts. In a recent speech at the UN, he called for the repeal of sodomy laws but also called NGOs that work with immigrants “cruel and evil.”

While the US has not overtly renounced support for LGBTQ rights in international diplomacy, some human rights activists worry that day could still becoming. The White House was silent when news broke in 2017 that police in the Russian republic of Chechnya had kidnapped and tortured more than 100 LGBTQ people. Trump’s current secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has called homosexuality a “perversion” and said during his confirmation that he still opposes marriage equality. Pompeo recently convened a new commission tasked with reining in a human rights regime he said had been “hijacked.” 

“Rights claims are often aimed more at rewarding interest groups and dividing humanity into subgroups,” he wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed announcing the commission.

The language used to describe the commission’s mission is “clearly code to not include gay rights and reproductive rights,” Mark Bromley, who leads the LGBTQ rights group the Council for Global Equality, told me earlier this month.

The US is not the only powerful government that has abandoned clear support for LGBTQ rights. Brazil, long a world leader the issue, has retreated under its far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, who once said he’d rather his son were dead than gay and blasted a recent Supreme Court decision criminalizing LGBTQ discrimination. In nearly every country that has slid toward greater authoritarianism — including Hungary, Poland, China, and the US — LGBTQ rights have been a casualty.

This turn away by many governments has not erased the gains made, thanks to growing support at the grassroots. Australians defied their right-leaning government in 2017 to overwhelmingly approve a referendum to institute marriage equality. India’s Supreme Court issued a sweeping ruling in 2018 to decriminalize homosexuality at a time when the country’s president is a religious fundamentalist. And two more African countries, Angola and Botswana, decriminalized homosexuality this year.

“Once you have a taste that a better world is possible, you do not want to go back,” said Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight Action International, which works with activists around the world and advocates for LGBTQ rights at the UN. 

But it is growing even more dangerous in some places to demand rights, and activists can’t count on solidarity from the US the way they could just a few years ago.

“In this environment, there are fewer powerful states that we can count on, and there are more powerful states that are hostile to LGBTIQ rights,” Stern recently told me. “Russia, with its influence across the Middle East, China, and its influence everywhere.” It’s not just that the US is a “shadow of its former self” when it comes to defending human rights, she added — it’s now part of the problem.

“I am very worried about the next decade,” Stern said. “Every time I open my email or turn on my phone, someone I know personally is under attack.”●   

October 9, 2019

The Showdown Over Firing LGBTQ Employees Over Their Orientation Started Yesterday on The Supremes



At the U.S. Supreme Court, the long-awaited showdown over the rights of LGBTQ employees is center stage. On Tuesday, the justices hear a set of cases testing whether the federal law that bars sex discrimination in employment applies to LGBTQ employees.
Specifically, the question is whether employers are free to fire employees because they are gay or transgender. Front and center in these cases is Gerald Bostock who, for 10 years, was the child-welfare coordinator for Clayton County, Ga. His primary responsibility was a program that provides advocates in court for abused and neglected children.
"It was the job I loved, and my employer loved me doing the job," says Bostock, noting that under his leadership the child advocates program "reached the benchmark of serving 100% of the children in foster care," an "unheard of milestone" for any such program in the greater metro Atlanta region.
"I was fired for being gay"
But in 2013, Bostock joined a gay recreational softball league. And "from that point on, my life changed, " he says. "Within months, I was fired for being gay. I lost my livelihood. I lost my medical insurance, and at the time I was fighting prostate cancer. It was devastating." 
Also front and center on Tuesday will be Aimee Stephens. She worked for the Harris Funeral Home in Livonia, Mich., as a funeral director for six years, presenting as a man. But by 2012, at age 51, she was in despair over her gender identity, and contemplating suicide.
"I stood in the backyard for an hour with a gun to my chest, but I couldn't do it," she says.
Stephens decided she would come out at work as a transgender woman. For eight months, she worked on a letter to her boss and co-workers telling them of her gender identity.
"In truth ... even I do not fully understand it myself"
"I have realized that some of you may have trouble understanding this," she wrote, adding, "In truth, I have had to live with it every day of my life, and even I do not fully understand it myself."
Two weeks after giving the letter to her boss, Stephens was fired.
Stephens and Bostock both took their former employers to court, charging that their dismissals were based on sex and thus violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination "because of sex," or "on the basis of sex."
The owner of Harris Funeral Homes, Tom Rost, explained in a videotaped interview with his lawyers why he fired Stephens, saying that he was concerned about how the families of the deceased would react to Stephens who was, in Rost's words, "the face of the Harris Funeral Home."
Neither Clayton County officials nor their lawyers would comment about Bostock's firing.
A "common-sense argument"
But in their briefs, the lawyers in both cases argue that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act does not apply to sexual orientation or gender status at all. "Everyone understood in 1964 [when the Civil Rights Act passed] that sex meant biological sex," says John Bursch who is arguing on behalf of Harris Funeral Homes in the Supreme Court. That means that neither women nor men can be treated unequally in the workplace, he says, but that "just does not translate into other categories" such as sexual orientation or gender identity.
Supporting that argument are 15 states, including Texas, and its solicitor general, Kyle Hawkins. The "common sense" argument, he asserts, is that "sex is not the same as sexual orientation and not the same as gender identity."
But lawyers representing the fired workers counter that the Supreme Court over the last half-century has interpreted the law far more broadly than that. They note that the justices have applied the anti-discrimination statute to a variety of situations that Congress wasn't thinking about in 1964.
For example, "in 1964 you wouldn't find a single dictionary that defined the term 'sexual harassment' and yet the Supreme Court has held that Title VII [of the 1964 Civil Rights Act] prohibits sexual harassment of women" and "also sexual harassment of men," observes Stanford Law Professor Pamela Karlan.
Indeed, more than two decades ago, the Supreme Court ruled that even same-sex sexual harassment was illegal under the statute. Writing for a unanimous court, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, said that while same-sex sexual harassment was "not the principal evil Congress was concerned with" in 1964, "statutory provisions often go beyond the principal evil to cover reasonably comparable evils." And, he said, "it is ultimately the provisions of our laws, rather than the principal concerns of our legislators by which we are governed."
Stanford's Karlan, who is arguing for the gay employees on Tuesday, will remind the justices of the court's very first sex discrimination case after enactment of the 1964 law: Phillips v. Martin Marietta Corporation. At issue was an employer's policy barring the hiring of women with young children.
The court ruled unanimously that the policy was illegal sex discrimination. Karlan argues that just as women with children are a subset of women covered by the anti-discrimination law, so too are gay, lesbian and bisexual employees.
"If it's sex discrimination to say you can't work for us if you are a woman and you have children at home, it's also sex discrimination to say you can't work for us because you're a woman and you have a wife at home," says Karlan.
Similarly, she maintains, "If you wouldn't fire a man for marrying a woman, but "you would fire a woman for marrying a woman, you've discriminated against the woman who works for you," Karlan maintains.
The transgender argument: politically difficult but analytically stark
The argument for transgender employees may be more politically difficult to sell. But it is arguably starker. It goes like this: If an employer hires a man and later fires the employee when the employee shows up as a woman, how is that not discrimination based on sex?
Lawyer Bursch will tell the justices that sexual orientation and gender status simply do not fit under the 1964 anti-discrimination formula. He warns that if the court were to rule against the employers in these cases, it would have ramifications beyond employment.
Could employment cases affect school sports?
"If we redefine the meaning of sex in federal law," he predicts, it would allow "biological men to identify as women and take women's places on sports teams." Bursch argues that has already happened in some places, with cisgender women losing out in medals to transgender women.
Federal law does indeed bar sex discrimination in sports programs at schools that get federal money. And the NCAA has developed regulations for when trans student-athletes may or may not participate. But as Stanford's Karlan observes, Title IX, known best for its impact in advancing women's sports, "is a different statute." And the regulations for education funding under Title IX "are different than the rules in the workplace" under Title VII.
Lawyers for the employers respond that Congress in 1964 simply did not anticipate the questions raised in these cases about the scope of Title VII and that Congress, not the courts, should be addressing these issues.
The case has drawn even more attention than anticipated, with dozens of friend-of-the-court briefs on each side. Siding with the employers is business groups that, for the most part, have some religious affiliation. But weighing in on the other side, in favor of protection for gay and trans employees, are 206 major corporations who employ over 7 million workers.
The Trump administration, reversing the position of the Obama administration, will argue in the Supreme Court against the LGBTQ employees.

July 3, 2019

LGBTQ 5 Year Journey of Documenting Their Love Stories in China

  Although China officially decriminalized homosexuality in 1997, activists say the stigma around being LGBTQ — and discussing it publicly — remains today.
In the past few years, Chinese Web censors have made headlines for repeatedly targeting depictions of homosexuality. In a 2018 survey by the U.N. and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, only 5% of LGBTQ people in China felt comfortable being out at work.
Italian-born photographer Raul Ariano is currently based between Shanghai and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. He says he traveled from Italy because he was fascinated by "Chinese people and their way of adapting themselves in the fast-paced change of their society."
Over dinner during Ariano's first weekend in mainland China, he says he was talking with a friend who called LGBTQ people "sick and dangerous."
"I was shocked to hear that," Ariano says.
So, over the course of five years, Ariano set out to photograph more than 30 LGBTQ participants across mainland China — eventually turning the project into a portrait series.
He says his goal was to "share stories of love, dignity and hope in a segment of society that tends to be hidden in China." 
Because many people avoid coming out to their parents and relatives for fear of being rejected, Ariano says he constantly faced difficulties finding willing participants. He almost gave up on the project several times.
But between commercial and editorial assignments, he reached out to the local community with the help of PFLAG China, an organization based in Guangzhou City.
Ariano photographed participants in their apartments, with natural lighting and different colors to show the intimacy between couples.
He says he was inspired by Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai's 1997 movie Happy Together. The movie is famous for his masterful explorations of colors and blurs and its distinctive style.
Ariano says getting access to such private spaces in people's lives was the most challenging part of the project.
But the concept of home was compelling for him. He says it's "the space where the couples share their time, their intimacy, and is a sort of shelter where they are protected and can be their real selves."
Throughout the series, Ariano met LGBTQ people across mainland China. Some had the support of their families. Others had been forced to endure conversion therapy.
"But the most incredible thing I have felt was the strength and the determination of those people to live the life they want," he says. "Whatever it takes."
Raul Ariano is an Italian photographer based in Shanghai and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Shuran Huang is NPR's photo intern.

June 4, 2019

In Argentina “Cholita” Using Folklore in Singing, Dancing and Challenges Gender and Stereotypes

Screen capture from “Ramita Seca,” produced by Elisa Portela via YouTube, featuring choreography and interpretation of “Bartolina Xixa” a drag persona inspired by Andean indigenous aesthetics.
In the middle of a large garbage dump, surrounded by fog, a figure in a wide pastel pink skirt and long braids dances a vidala, a form of traditional poetry accompanied by music typical of Argentinian folklore.

A small portrait of Romina Navarro
Written byRomina Navarro
Translated byDaniela Cristain

It's Bartolina Xixa, the Andean “drag folk” character created by Maximiliano Mamaní, who reassesses Argentinian northern folklore from a gender perspective and aims to decolonize it with a focus on indigenous peoples.
In their most recent work, “Dry Little Branch, the Permanent Coloniality,” the artist chose the open-air dump setting of Hornillos, located in the Quebrada of Humahuaca, a region declared as a cultural and natural heritage of humanity by UNESCO in 2003.
The vidala has plenty of symbolism. Composed by singer-songwriter Aldana Bello, the lyrics explore the topic of mining exploitation and atrocities perpetrated against Indigenous communities: 
 This vidala I'm singing / Is bleeding with grief and pain / The injustices of centuries / Still stand fierce […] In the Andean zone there are mining [companies] / They pollute dreams / Water, land, everything / [everything] that surrounds them.
Mamaní was born in Jujuy, located in far northwest Argentina, and grew up in the neighboring region of Salta. They study Anthropology at the National University of Salta and work as a professor of folk dance.
With Bartolina Xixa, Mamaní challenges stereotypes found in folk art, in which gender roles perpetuate binary structures that leave out a range of identities. As Mamaní points out in an interview with the Argentine site VOS:
I perform Argentine, Peruvian and Bolivian folk dances. I like folk music, which is why I had the need to reflect on it and on my position as a gay man in it, as I was being denied the opportunity to express myself when it came to build a choreography and make a partner dance…
And they add:
I realized that the same thing was happening to many others, because folklore has been designed from a heterosexual point of view. Certain attributes are given to the male figure, to the gauchos [for example], such as strength, firmness, and courtship. He is the one who leads. Women, meanwhile, are submissive, complacent.

A tribute to an Aymara heroine

Mamaní's social questionings are not limited to the world of folklore — they also address the tendencies that dominate global aesthetics with which “drag” is approached, an aesthetic that the artist says is linked to stereotypes of Western cultures’ notions of the feminine.
Their drag character is a departure from that tendency: Inspired by Bartolina Sisa Vargas, an Aymara leader who rebelled against the Spanish empire and subsequently captured, tortured and murdered in La Paz, Bolivia, in 1782, Mamaní pays tribute to this Andean woman, the “cholita” — “a hardworking woman, head of her household, who goes out to work every day, and who has ties to her family, her community, her ancestors, her traditions.”

Bartolina Xixa during a presentation in Buenos Aires, June 2018. Photo by Elisa Portela, used with permission.
In an episode of the podcast “Relatos Disidentes” or “Dissident Chronicles,” from the Salta-based portal, VóVè, Mamaní describes his character:
I usually say that I lend my body to Bartolina Xixa. [A character that] was born from the urgency of being able to think of other ways of doing folklore, another way of understanding identities that cross my own experience and that cross a whole group's experience.

Challenging the construction of Argentine masculinity and the “LGBT-norm”

Mamaní's activism and militancy appeal to social networks — especially Facebookand Instagram — through which to convey provocative messages. The best example is a Facebook post that became known as the “gay kiss,” which went viral on the platform in November 2018.
They shared the post during the pre-game soccer match between Boca Juniors and River Plate soccer clubs, featuring images of Mamaní kissing another man in front of the convent, San Bernardo, in Salta, while wearing the shirts of the rival teams. They declared it the “Super Classic Gay Kiss”:
An extract of the text in the post reads:
The super classic Gay Kiss. We're black, we're from the slums, we're from the countryside, we're poor. We don't have the stereotypical slim body, we're the face that coloniality refuses to acknowledge. We're fags, empowered and subaltern, away from the steretypical “classic” gay [man] […] We live our lives in spaces and memories that are always silenced by the heteronorm and the LGBTnorm […] An Argentine clssic is not Boca vs River. An Argentinian classic is seeing we're stigmatized, insulted, expelled (from our lands), hated, killed.
The post attracted all kinds of reactions and comments of support, rejection, ridicule, admiration, love, and hate from users. Global Voices spoke with Mamaní about the post via WhatsApp:
An interesting thing was seeing how they were attacking us by saying we were not Argentinian […] What they were trying to say is that the face of Argentina is white, is heterosexual, and has no brown or indigenous attributes, nor it has any sexual diversity.
Mamaní acknowledged that he is cautious when he publishes on social networks, aware of how it exposes them to attacks and intolerance. But they do not let attacks and negative criticism interfere with their main goal to disseminate artistic work through their drag persona, Bartolina, in the spirit of environmental, social, political and gender activism.
Mamaní also stressed how they are constantly challenged within the “drag queen scene” and LGBTQ communities of Argentina. Their way of expressing diversity from a “peripheral perspective” — away from the urban centers of power, Mamaní says, is questioned by choosing, instead, a drag character from the aesthetic of Bolivian indigenous culture:
It is not the same to be a white gay [man] from the city than a brown gay [man], with body that is not normative [according the dominant idea of beauty], with an indigenous face, who lives in a community far from all capitalist culture. [Being] gay, poor, from the working class… all of that defines and differentiates [our social] structures [and experiences].

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