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Bhutan moves to decriminalize homosexuality

The tiny Himalayan kingdom’s parliament became the world’s latest to decriminalize homosexuality.

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Photo by Moom22 from Pixabay.com

Rainbow rising in Bhutan, with the tiny Himalayan kingdom’s lower house of parliament, overwhelmingly voting to repeal two sections of the 2004 criminal code which made “unnatural sex” illegal.

While the law was never been used, Finance Minister Namgay Tshering, who submitted the recommendation to repeal sections 213 and 214 of the penal code, said they had become “a stain” on the country’s reputation.

Tshering said he is optimistic that the upper house in the nation of 750,000 people would back the lower house decision.

Speaking to Reuters, Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, was quoted as saying: “Taking steps to end the criminalization of same-sex relationships is a welcome and progressive step by Bhutan.”

The bill now needs to be passed by Bhutan parliament’s upper chamber before being sent for royal assent.

If this amendment passes, 69 countries remain worldwide where same-sex relations are illegal.

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Ecuador passes same-sex marriage

With the decision by the Constitutional Court, Ecuador joins a handful of Latin American nations – including Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia and Uruguay – that have legalized same-sex marriage either through judicial rulings, or less frequently, legislative action.

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Photo by fernandozhiminaicela from Pixabay.com

Ecuador became the latest country to allow same-sex marriage, with five of nine judges in the country’s top court ruling in favor of two gay couples who sued after their request to be married was denied by the country’s civil registry.

With the decision by the Constitutional Court, Ecuador joins a handful of Latin American nations – including Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia and Uruguay – that have legalized same-sex marriage either through judicial rulings, or less frequently, legislative action.

Also with this development, the Latin American nation is now the 27th country to allow same-sex marriage.

In Asia, still only Taiwan became the first territory in Asia to pass same-sex marriage.

There are still 68 nations where homosexual relations are illegal.


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Brazilian Supreme Court criminalizes homophobia, transphobia

Brazil has actually already legalized same-sex marriages. But violence in the country toward LGBTQIA people remains common, with 387 murders and 58 suicides happening in Brazil in 2017 due to “homotransphobia” or negative feelings towards homosexuals or transsexuals, according to Grupo Gay da Bahia.

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Photo by Raphael Nogueira from Unsplash.com

Brazil’s Supreme Court voted to criminalize anti-LGBTQIA discrimination, with eight of Brazil’s 11 Supreme Federal Court (STF) justices ruling to include homophobia and transphobia within the country’s laws prohibiting racism.

The country’s laws banning racism were passed in 1989, allowing for sentences of up to five years. The new clause would legally protect the country’s LGBTQIA community, which actually still has some of the highest rates of violent LGBTQIA deaths in the world.

With the Supreme Federal Court (STF) decision, the Congress – which is held by a conservative majority and is strongly influenced by evangelical churches – may still pass a law specifically addressing such discrimination.

Justice Carmen Lucia Antunes argued in her ruling that the LGBTQIA community is treated differently in Brazil’s “discriminatory society,” and as a result, it faces a higher rate of violence. “All human beings are born free and equal and should be treated with the same spirit of fraternity”.

Brazil has actually already legalized same-sex marriages. But violence in the country toward LGBTQIA people remains common, with 387 murders and 58 suicides happening in Brazil in 2017 due to “homotransphobia” or negative feelings towards homosexuals or transsexuals, according to Grupo Gay da Bahia (GGB). For 2019, at least 141 have already been killed.

The Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, has also been very vocal about his anti-LGBTQIA sentiment, claiming that the Supreme Court was “completely wrong” and had overstepped its powers, moving into legislative territory.

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In a 2011 interview with Playboy Brazil, Bolsonaro said he would rather have a dead son than a gay son. He was also quoted as saying that that they could not let Brazil become a “paradise for gay tourism”.

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High Court in Botswana rules to decriminalize same-sex relations

In particular, the judges stated that “a democratic society is one that embraces tolerance, diversity and open-mindedness”, as well as highlighting that discrimination serves to hold back not only LGBTIQ people, but society as a whole by stating that “societal inclusion is central to ending poverty and fostering shared prosperity.”

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Photo by hbieser from Pixabay.com

On 11 June 2019, a full bench of the High Court of Botswana ruled to remove a relic of its colonial past by striking down section 164(a) and (c), and section 167 of the penal code, which criminalize same-sex relations, or “carnal knowledge against the order of nature”, and prescribe a prison sentence of up to seven years for those found guilty.

The court unanimously ruled that the provisions are discriminatory, against public interest and unconstitutional. 

In particular, the judges stated that “a democratic society is one that embraces tolerance, diversity and open-mindedness”, as well as highlighting that discrimination serves to hold back not only LGBTIQ people, but society as a whole by stating that “societal inclusion is central to ending poverty and fostering shared prosperity.”

With this decision, the court continued its record of recognizing the human rights of LGBTIQ people in the country. In 2014 the High Court ruled that the government had to allow the registration of LEGABIBO, an LGBTIQ organization. And in 2017, in two separate cases – one concerning a trans man, and the other a trans woman – the High Court ruled that the refusal of the National Registration to change the gender marker of trans people violates their rights to dignity, privacy, freedom of expression, equal protection under the law.  

With this ruling Botswana joins Angola, Mozambique, India, Trinidad and Tobago and other countries that also recently struck down similar colonial-era laws. However, there are still numerous countries that maintain this discriminatory colonial-era relic, including places such as Singapore, Sri Lanka, Uganda and Kenya, where the High Court ruled last month to maintain the barbaric law.

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3 Ways Boracay is (still somewhat) LGBTQIA-okay…

Over a year since the announcement of the “closure” of Boracay, how’s this tropical paradise in Malay, Aklan, particularly as far as being LGBTQIA-friendly is concerned?

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When Boracay Island was “closed” for rehab last April 2018, it was – in many ways – already a somewhat gay place – e.g. the extremely profit-oriented (and apparently environmentally not-so-friendly) LaBoracay may have been known as a “party time” for everyone marking Labor Day in Boracay; but it was overwhelmingly LGBTQIA-led and driven…

Now, over a year since the announcement of that “closure”, how’s this tropical paradise in Malay, Aklan, particularly as far as being LGBTQIA-friendly is concerned?

Following a visit, here are three signs that the place remains… somewhat gay-okay…

1. The locals are starting to organize.

There have been attempts in the past to formally organize the local LGBTQIA community; but the more recent efforts have been more well-defined (and shall we say more “formalized” and have been gaining more traction, particularly online). For instance, Malay local Aloha Filipino recently attempted to gather members of the LGBTQIA community to formally organize them (the initial attempt leading to – as expected – the stereotypical LGBT-led and -participated beauty pageant).

Organizing is important, obviously, with the local LGBTQIA community encountering issues very specific to them – e.g. sex work on the island, and the risks that accompany the profession.

But organizing isn’t without challenges, and at times, a challenge comes from the supposed supporter/s of the organizing – e.g. there are supposedly local officials who want this organizing to happen so they can then profile the members; and – if crimes involving LGBTQIA people are committed – then they know where to get the information about these LGBTQIA people. Former Quezon City mayor Herbert Bautista’s ill-conceived profiling of LGBTQIA people comes to mind…

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All the same, though, that the thought of organizing even entered the minds of the locals is a plus already.

2. Gay expression abounds… along the shoreline.

No, I didn’t notice bars openly refusing LGBTQIA community members (particularly trans) from entering their premises this time around. But this may be because there aren’t as many rowdy bars in Boracay anymore – those late night partying still happen for sure, but… they aren’t as rowdy as they used to be even in the truly rowdy bars in the past.

Let me say this, then: When in Boracay, and if/when looking to score, head to the shore. That’s where the “action” happens.

3. Tolerance (though maybe not acceptance) is more “defined”.

There’s a story that’s been making the rounds in Boracay: A trans sex worker allegedly stabbed a Chinese client for shortchanging her (i.e. not paying her the agreed-upon amount). This is – according to a local source of Outrage Magazine – why local officials want to profile the LGBTQIA people here; so that if something like this happens again, then they know where to go to capture a suspect.

Despite this occurrence (or perhaps because of it?), sex work involving (particularly) trans women has been “normalized” on the island now, according to the same source. It is “tolerated”, and “acknowledged” to exist, so “they are just left to do what they do”.

Yes, yes, yes… I know that I’ve focused ONLY on the tolerance of sex work, which is not the same as tolerance of LGBTQIA people at all (!). But bear with me when I specifically mention the above because – in the past – female sex workers were tolerated (I’d say even encouraged by some venues that saw this as a come-on for tourists) while trans sex workers were barred in these same venues.

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Beyond this, though, LGBTQIA faces (particularly gay and trans) are becoming more common in Boracay as a whole – e.g. as vendors/salespeople (akin to Divisoria, if I may say so); as staff of accommodations; and even as government officials (such as our local contact).

The place still has a long, long, LONG way to go to actually openly promote LGBTQIA human rights. But this is Boracay, after all; where every sunset is beautiful not just to end the day, but to mark what surprises still lie ahead/tomorrow. So come visit and expect (if not wait) to be surprised…

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Kenya’s High Court backs prohibiting same-sex sexual activity

Kenya’s High Court ruled to maintain Sections 162 and 165 of the penal code, relics of the colonial era, which prohibit same-sex sexual activity or “carnal knowledge against the order of nature”, and prescribe a jail sentence of up to 14 years for those found guilty.

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Kenya’s High Court ruled to maintain Sections 162 and 165 of the penal code, relics of the colonial era, which prohibit same-sex sexual activity or “carnal knowledge against the order of nature”, and prescribe a jail sentence of up to 14 years for those found guilty.

The key argument centered around the fundamental importance of family, as defined by marriage between people of the opposite sex, and argued that decriminalization of same-sex activity would lead to same-sex marriage.

The case challenging this law was initiated in Nairobi by the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC), the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK), and the Nyanza, Rift Valley and Western Kenya Network (NYARWEK). With other partners, they argued that the laws stand in breach of the assurance of protection from discrimination and the right to human dignity and privacy for all prescribed in the country’s constitution.

But in a ruling that lasted almost two hours and quoted both international case law and national provisions protecting the family, culture and religion, Justice Aburili, Justice Mativo and Justice Mwita stated that the contested provisions do not target a specific group of people, but rather “any person”, and therefore cannot be considered discriminatory. Furthermore, the judges argued that Sections 162 and Sections 165 do not violate the right to dignity or privacy of LGBTIQ individuals. Ultimately the petition to declare these colonial-era laws unconstitutional was dismissed on the grounds that “decriminalizing same-sex sex would contradict the provisions of article 45 sub-article 2”, which defines marriage as between persons of the opposite sex and “would indirectly open the door to same-sex unions” which “would be against values of the constitution”.

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“The continued existence of these long outdated laws gives a green light for harassment and discrimination of LGBTQ people. The ruling issued today is a horrific reminder of this. It establishes once again that LGBTQ people in Kenya are not only second-class citizens, but even criminals, merely for loving whom we love. We are extremely disappointed with the ruling today, but it will not stop us from continuing our struggle for recognition, tolerance, and respect, because #WeAreAllKenyans and #LoveIsHuman,” said Njeri Gateru, NGLHRC’s Executive Director.

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In first for Asia, Taiwan parliament legalizes same-sex unions

Taiwan became the first place in Asia to legalize marriage equality, as it passed a bill that allows same-sex couples to form “exclusive permanent unions” and another clause that would let them apply for a “marriage registration” with government agencies.

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All photos taken during Taiwan's Pride parade in 2015

Taiwan became the first place in Asia to legalize marriage equality, as it passed a bill – by 66 votes to 27 – that allows same-sex couples to form “exclusive permanent unions” and another clause that would let them apply for a “marriage registration” with government agencies.

In 2017, Taiwan’s top court ruled that not allowing same-sex couples to marry violates the constitution, with judges at that time giving the government until May 24, 2019 to make the changes or see marriage equality enacted automatically.

The law, however, only: 1. allows same-sex marriages between Taiwanese, or 2. with foreigners whose countries recognize same-sex marriage. It also permits adoption of children biologically related to at least one of the same-sex pair.

But while this development is monumental, there are members of Taiwan’s LGBTQIA community – much like in Western countries where marriage equality has also already been legalized – are also lamenting the over-emphasis on same-sex marriage as a seeming “end-all issue”.

In 2015, for instance, during Taiwan’s Pride, some members of Taiwan’s LGBTQIA community lamented the “hijacking” of an LGBTQI event because of the lack of opportunity to highlight “non-mainstream LGBTQI issues.”

LGBTQIA activist 徐豪謙, for instance, noted at that time that “people only talk about the politically correct and popular issue of same-sex marriage, as if we don’t have other issues to face.”

In other parts of Asia, only Vietnam decriminalized gay marriage celebrations in 2015, even if it stopped short of giving full legal recognition for same-sex unions.

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In the Philippines, various government officials – including Pres. Rodrigo Duterte – have expressed support for civil unions, not marriage equality per se. To date, however, even the anti-discrimination bill is failing to gain traction in Congress, and is still stalled after almost 20 years.

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