Equal Eyes: Asia and the Pacific Round-Up for January 2018

Catch up on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex news and issues around Asia and the Pacific in this latest edition of Equal Eyes.

24 January 2018 (updated)

HIV, Health, and Wellness: Over a year into India’s National AIDS Control Organization intervention to reduce the spread of HIV in prisons, program coordinators face challenges noting that inmates who engage in unsafe sex or share needles need harm reduction strategies and condoms.

Writing for Youth Ki Awaaz, Shambhavi Saxena explored the difficulties that sex workers, gay men and other men who have sex with men, and trans people face when trying to safely and affordably seek HIV treatment in India.

Meanwhile, in Malaysia, officials announced a plan to start a voluntary ‘conversion therapy’ course for transgender women that will include medical, psychological, and religious components to return people “to normal lives”.

From the World of Politics:  In Bangladesh, the Election Commission added the third gender category of hijra to voter enrollment forms. Taiwan officials announced it is considering plans to add a third gender category to passports and identity cards.

In New Zealand, the Minister of Statistics removed questions on sexuality and gender from the national census after previously testing them on the 2016 and 2017 census. The Ministry claimed the data was not statistically viable, while activists demanded an inquiry to “identify the failure of over 10 years of work in this area”.
Indonesia’s Communication and Informatics Ministry has threatened to block Google unless it removes 75 LGBT social networking apps from the Google Play Store.

For the first time since 1951, India’s government is updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in an effort, it says, to detect migrants illegally in the country. The government ignited fear by publishing a “partial list” that included only 19 million people of an estimated 32 million in the country. Transgender activists have warned that most trans people are unable to access legal documents and could be among those excluded from the NRC.

The Indian Parliament also reintroduced the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016. Although the bill is meant to improve non-discrimination rights of trans people, activists say it disregards progressive reforms made in the Supreme Court Transgender Rights ruling of 2014 and presents a “fantasy” definition of who a trans person is.

Pakistan’s Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights approved the Transgender Person (Protection of Rights) Bill 2017 to improve recognition of trans people, property rights, and employment opportunities. The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), a constitutional body that advises parliament on laws and Islam, will review the bill in January.

In Bangladesh, Nadira Begum became the first openly third-gender candidate to run for public office. And in Canada, Julie Lemieux became the country’s first openly trans person elected to be a mayor.

The Politics of Union: Although Taiwan’s highest court ruled in May that the Civil Code must be amended to include same-sex marriage, the Taipei High Administrative Court has refused to validate a lesbian couple’s marriage, saying that it is up to the Legislative Yuan to change the legal framework for marriage.

Let the Courts Decide: In China, Beijing’s No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court accepted a case challenging China’s State media regulator for a directive that bans content that depicts “homosexual relations” which it labels “abnormal sexual relations or behavior”.

India’s Supreme Court announced it will reconsider Section 377 of the Penal Code that criminalizes sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex. The judges decided to reconsider, in part, because of the court’s historic August ruling that declared privacy as a fundamental right.

In Singapore, a district judge refused to allow a gay man to adopt his four-year-old biological son, born in the US via surrogacy. Singapore does not practice surrogacy and only allows IVF for married couples. The man and his partner, who previously were rejected for any adoption because of their sexuality, will appeal the decision.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) called upon the government of Nepal to honor its historic Supreme Court 2007 decision on LGBT rights. Despite some progress, the ICJ said not enough is being done to implement the full ruling of the court.

In the Name of Religion: Members of the National Council of Churches in India published an open letter in support of the decision of the Supreme Court to review Section 377 criminalizing homosexuality and urging the court to strike down the law.

In Australia, openly gay Imam Nur Warsame discussed plans to open a counseling center and place of worship for gay Muslims. In the US, the oldest Catholic and Jesuit university, Georgetown, approved a residential living space for LGBTQ students and “provide a community space for discussion on gender and inclusion while upholding the Jesuit values”.

Indonesia’s Religious Affairs Minister, Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, told reporters that LGBT people should be “embraced”, not “shunned or excommunicated”. The Human Rights Watch cautioned that the Minister’s words should be taken in context as the Minister has also repeatedly called LGBT “mentally ill”.

Winds of Change: The Armed Forces of the Philippines, aiming to recruit 10,000 volunteers, invited LGBT people who “behave properly” to join the military. The British Army, who’s annual recruitment fell 30% below targets last year, launched a new £1.6 million campaign to recruit women, people of color, and LGBT to service. Although the campaign has garnered backlash, creators hope it will “challenge perceptions” and improve diversity.

In Hong Kong, the Equality Commision proposed that the government remove surgery requirements and allow trans people to self-declare their gender identity. Journalist Laurie Chen spoke to Hong Kong trans bodybuilder Law Siu-fung and others about efforts towards equality.

In India, Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil told media that he is building a center for LGBT people at his palace grounds in Gujarat that will include housing, a medical facility, and job training. And in the UK, Micro Rainbow International (MRI) opened their second safe house for LGBTI refugees.

Activist Manisha Dhakal described how she “endured countless humiliations” as a trans woman in Nepal, yet those challenges led her to become executive director of the country’s largest LGBTI rights organization.

On the March: Australia’s Midsumma Festival, celebrating LGBTIQ culture, kicked off mid-January. The 23rd annual Midsumma Pride March on the 28th of January will be lead for the first time by two Indigenous queer people.

Business and Technology:  The LGBT Foundation of Hong Kong announced the launch of a cryptocurrency targeted to support LGBT businesses and protect LGBT people’s identities. The “LGBT Token” is meant to facilitate transactions and authenticate payments in a secure and anonymous manner.

Sports and Culture: In Australia, people aged 18 to 93-years-old were asked to name the most significant things that have shaped the country in their lifetimes. Mentioned more than any other event, the legalization of same-sex marriage topped the list over 9/11, the Sydney Olympics, the Vietnam War, and the Moon landing, among others.

The producers of RuPaul’s Drag Race announced that the first international version of the show will be made in Thailand with co-hosts Thai drag queen Pangina Heals and fashion designer Art Arya. Speaking on other upcoming projects, the producers stated that there has been an “overwhelming global demand” for content that tells the stories of drag culture: “What was previously thought of as niche is now undeniably mainstream.”

Equal Eyes is edited by Christina Dideriksen and Richard Burzynski. The views presented here do not necessarily represent the view of UNAIDS or its Cosponsors. 

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