10 LGBTQI Activist Moments of 2013

At Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, the last days of the year are a time to honor brave leaps forward and take stock of political set backs for LGBTQI rights activism in 2013. By no means comprehensive, we offer a brief survey of ten moments of LGBTQI activism around the globe in 2013. Join the conversation online and share more moments with us on facebook and twitter using #LGBTQIActivistMoments!

1. Edith Windsor’s win for Marriage Equality: the Defense of Marriage Act is declared unconstitutional by U.S. Supreme Court. Federal recognition is afforded to same-sex marriages performed under state law. The U.S. becomes one of a handful of countries pushing same-sex marriage forward.

2. In a set back in Colombia, the nation’s same-sex marriage bill failed to pass the Senate and bypass coalition opposition led by the Attorney General. Legal ambiguity remains, however, with constitutional recognition of legal registry in effect. Couples can approach notaries or judges to marry, but their requests remain in the hands of officials who can deny them.

3. Years of policy advocacy, movement building, and direct action by LGBTQI activists of color produced hard-fought victories for immigration rights in California. The city of San Francisco passed an ordinance limiting the Secure Communities program (S-Comm), effectively reducing the threat of deportation to anyone arrested by local police. And the state of California passed the Trust Act, prohibiting local law enforcement agencies from detaining people for deportation if arrested for a minor or non-violent crime and are otherwise eligible to be released from custody.

4. New York City Council passed the Community Safety Act, winning New Yorkers protection from the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy. Simultaneously, Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin issued a decision declaring stop-and-frisk as practiced by the NYPD unconstitutional. While this ruling was appealed by Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s administration, Mayor-Elect Bill DeBlasio has pledged to drop this appeal and it remains to be seen exactly how these new protections against police abuse will be enacted.

5. Ugandan LGBTI advocacy groups made collective strides pinpointing American evangelist involvement in anti-gay persecution in Uganda. The U.S. court case “Sexual Minorities Uganda vs. Scott Lively” moved forward while the Ugandan parliament unexpectedly passed its “Kill the Gays” bill.

6. Cuban lawmakers approve a proposal to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

7. LGBTQI activism swelled after India’s Supreme Court upheld a colonial-era law, Section 377 of India’s penal code, and recriminalized same-sex relations. The Court’s decision overruled a previous ruling of 377 as unconstitutional by the Delhi High Court, and severely set back LGBTQI human rights protections in India.

8. LGBTQI human rights activists in Russia witnessed a show of support around the winter Olympic games in Sochi. Activists called for action, reporting heightened LGBTQI violence since the Russian government passed an anti-gay propaganda law and conducted nationwide raids of nongovernmental organizations to identify “foreign agents” earlier in the year. International advocacy efforts include Billie Jean King, Brian Boitano, and other gay athletes joining a U.S. delegation to the Olympics.

9. In a unanimous 9-0 ruling, Canada’s Supreme Court decriminalized sex work offering constitutional protections to sex workers’ health and safety.

10. Guyana courts upheld a partial ban on cross-dressing deeming it illegal if done for “improper purposes.” LGBTQI rights groups in Guyana including Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination rallied to appeal the judgment to protect transgender people from being persecuted by 120-year-old law.

In Memory

Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice mourns the lives and celebrates the legacies of three activists and colleagues who have recently passed.

Sunila

Sunila Abeysekera, a courageous human rights defender, pioneer feminist, lesbian, scholar, and artist, passed away after a long battle with cancer on September 9th at the age of 61.

Sunila was a visionary activist with a 40 year legacy fighting for justice in Sri Lanka and regionally in South Asia, and coalition-building globally. In her career, Sunila addressed violence against women, peace building and conflict transformation, sexual and reproductive rights, and the rights of marginalized communities such as sex workers, ethnic minorities, people living with HIV/AIDS, and lesbian, gay, and transgender people. Sunila’s dedication to liberation and justice often put her at great risk. A fearless outspoken advocate, Sunila faced threats to her safety with boundless courage throughout her activist career. According to WHRD IC, she met particular danger with bravery during the period of terror in Sri Lanka where large-scale violence and enforced disappearances took place in the country.

Sunila was a founding member of the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD IC) and supported the development of Women’s Support Group, the first queer women’s organization in Sri Lanka. She also founded the Women and Media Collective, the INFORM Human Rights Documentation Center, and the Movement for Interracial Justice and Equality. She worked internationally with the Global Campaign for Women’s Human Rights, lobbying at the 1993 United Nations World Conference and the 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women. She received the UN Secretary General’s Award for Human Rights from Kofi Annan in 1998, was nominated as one of the One Thousand Women for the Nobel Peace in 2005, and was honored with the Human Rights Defender Award in 2007 by Human Rights Watch.

Melenie

Astraea mourns the loss of international trans rights activist Melenie Mahinamalamalama Eleneke. Known to many as Auntie Mel,Melenie passed away at the age of 53 on September 9th after visiting the hospital with chest pain and being sent home without due care.

A core leader at TGI Justice Project, Melenie fought for the rights of trans, gender variant, and intersex people of color within and outside of the prison system. She was an editor of TGI Justice’s prison newsletter, Stiletto, and served as Director of Development and Administration at the organization. In 2008, Melenie brought the rights of trans women of color to the forefront with an historic address to the United Nation during its review of U.S. compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

An activist in the Polynesian community and a spiritual healer, Melenie gave vibrant force to the movement to preserve the culture, language, and spiritual practices of the Hawaiian people. She was member of many Hula groups including The Ladies of Keolalaulani Halau and the House of Valenciaga, and founded a hula group for trans woman of color. Family, friends, and colleagues celebrate Melenie with tributes of her loving and generous spirit at meleniepresente.

Betu

Pioneer lesbian, bisexual, and trans rights activist in India, Betu Singh passed away on October 4th. Betu established Sangini Trust in New Dehli in 1997, the first lesbian crisis hotline and one of the oldest community support programs for lesbian and bisexual women, and trans people in India. Betu ran Sangini Trust without funding for its first two years. Against great odds, Sangini Trust grew from a hotline to a multiservice organization offering weekly group meetings and workshops, working with educational institutions and prisons, and providing crucial educational resources and legal support to the LBT community. Betu spoke to the evolution of her activist work and her personal history in a video interview as part of PROJECT BOLO (Project Speak Up).

In the wake of Betu’s passing, outpourings of commemoration from friends and community pay respect to Betu’s unwavering support to LBT communities in Delhi.

Delhi High Court Overturns ‘Sodomy’ Law

Astraea celebrates the Delhi High Court ruling overturning the ‘Sodomy’ Law.  The Court ruled that Penal Code Section 377, enacted during British Colonial Rule, was unconstitutional and violated international human rights conventions.  We applaud our grantee partners and the myriad and creative ways they work to advance justice for LGBTI people in India.

New York Times: Indian Court Overturns Gay Sex Ban

Read International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission’s action alert in support of the court decision.

Human Rights Watch’s In Depth Report
India: Court Strikes Down ‘Sodomy’ Law
Government Should Uphold Decision of Delhi High Court

The ruling today by the Delhi High Court that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) can no longer be used to treat consensual homosexual conduct between adults as a criminal offense is a victory for basic rights to privacy, non-discrimination, and liberty, Human Rights Watch said today.

The ruling of the two-judge bench of the Delhi High Court, consisting of Chief Justice A.P. Shah and Justice S. Muralidhar, means that Section 377, which criminalizes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” will no longer apply to consensual sexual activity among adults. This is the first time that a senior court in India has issued a decision on the law. While the ruling applies to New Delhi, it is likely to influence the legal establishment across the nation.

“This legal remnant of British colonialism has been used to deprive people of their basic rights for too long,” said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “This long-awaited decision testifies to the reach of democracy and rights in India.”

Human Rights Watch urged India’s government not to contest or appeal the decision. Human Rights Watch also urged India’s Lok Sabha (Parliament) to move quickly to scrap Section 377 nationwide, and to replace it with laws that would provide full, gender-neutral protection for children and adults against sexual abuse and assault. Existing Indian “rape laws” do not recognize anything but penile-vaginal penetration as sexual assault, which leaves many adults and children, including male children, unprotected.

The case has been before the Delhi High Court since 2001. Hearings began in May 2008, and the bench has been deliberating its judgment since November 2008. The petitioners, Naz Foundation (India) Trust, were represented by Anand Grover of Lawyers Collective (who was appointed UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health in July 2008). The petitioners argued that Section 377 violated not only tenets of the Indian constitution, but also international human rights standards. They drew special attention to the fact that the law did not distinguish between consensual and non-consensual sexual acts. They also argued that the law impedes HIV and AIDS prevention and outreach by driving underground already vulnerable populations, such as men who have sex with men.

India’s Ministry of Home Affairs opposed changes to the law on the grounds that decriminalizing homosexual conduct would “open the floodgates of delinquent behavior.” However, the affidavit filed by the National AIDS Control Association of India – part of the Ministry of Health – took a contrary stand, supporting the petitioners’ statements about the need for decriminalization in the fight against HIV and AIDS. More recently, Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss supported decriminalization for similar reasons.

Voices against 377, a coalition of women’s rights, children’s rights, LGBT rights, and human rights groups in India, intervened in support of the petitioners. It pointed to cases of arrest, abuse, and harassment of LGBT people to support the argument that Section 377 violated the fundamental rights of a vulnerable community.

As Human Rights Watch documented in a 2008 report, “This Alien Legacy: The Origins of ‘Sodomy’ Laws in British Colonialism,” British colonizers introduced Section 377 to India in 1860. It became a model for similar sodomy laws imposed on other British colonies, and comparable provisions survive today from Singapore to Uganda.

“Most of the world’s sodomy laws are relics of colonialism,” said Long. “As the world’s largest democracy, India has shown the way for other countries to rid themselves of these repressive burdens.”

Colonies and countries that retain versions of this British sodomy law include:
• In Asia and the Pacific: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, India, Kiribati, Malaysia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Myanmar (Burma), Nauru, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Western Samoa. (Governments that inherited the same British law, but have abolished it since include Australia, Fiji, Hong Kong, and New Zealand.)
• In Africa: Botswana, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Nigeria, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Swaziland, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Eleven former British colonies in the Caribbean also retain sodomy laws derived from a different British model than the one imposed on India.

Creating Resources for Empowerment in Action (CREA)

CREA is a Global-South-based international feminist human rights organization formed in 1999 by a group of development professionals working in the human rights.

CREA is a Global-South-based international feminist human rights organization formed in 1999 by a group of development professionals working in the fields of reproductive rights, sexuality, violence against women, media and women’s human rights. Together with partners from a diverse range of human rights movements and networks, CREA works to build feminist leadership, advance the rights of women and girls, and the sexual and reproductive freedoms of all people. CREA currently plans to pursue targeted public education activities to reduce stigma and discrimination against LGBTI people over the next three years. They are building on recent success last year where they provided planning and training support to a pioneering student program called “Breaking Barriers” at the Tagore International School, which won first prize in a National Youth Leader competition and garnered significant positive media coverage. CREA also organized debates in colleges on issues of gender and sexuality, and ran an online campaign with Youth Ki Awaaz, which reached over a half a million people.