27 October 2018

Africa: LGBT Violence and Discrimination Is 'Disastrous'

United Nations — Transgender and gender-diverse people are facing unprecedented levels of violence and discrimination around the world and states must act to ensure they are not left behind, said a United Nations rights expert.

In a report presented to the U.N. General Assembly, U.N. Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity Victor Madrigal-Borloz expressed concern over the levels of violence towards and the lack of recognition of gender identities, especially transgender people, stating that the situation is "disastrous."

"These persons are suffering levels of violence and discrimination that are offensive to human conscience," he said during a press conference.

Madrigal-Borloz noted that 71 countries criminalise sexual orientation and gender identity diversity. Of them, some 20 countries criminalise certain activities of forms of gender identity.

Alongside persistent discrimination, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities continue to be subject to violence simply because of their identities.

In the United States, at least 22 transgender people have been killed so far in 2018, many of them women of colour.

Most recently, 31-year-old Ciara Minaj Carter Frazier was stabbed to death in Chicago. Her death puts this year on track to match, if not surpass, the 28 murders of transgender people in 2017.

Brazil has one of the world's highest rates of LGBT-targeted violence as 2017 saw a record 445 reports of murders of LGBT Brazilians. Among them is Dandara dos Santos, a transgender woman who was tortured, beaten, and shot in northeastern Brazil.

Many fear that such violence will only get worse under the looming presidency of Jair Bolsonaro who has said homosexuality is "an affront to the family structure" and that it can be cured with violence.

"Clearly, criminalisation is creating a situation where persons are not only not protected, but actively persecuted on the basis of their gender identity," Madrigal-Borloz said.

He also noted that LGBT communities are further marginalised as they are denied access to services such as education, health, and housing.

Approximately one in five transgender individuals have reported being homeless during their lifetime in the U.S., and an estimated 20-40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT.

Madrigal-Borloz said that this situation is partly attributed to the lack of legal recognition of gender identities.

"The measures adopted to ensure that there is conformity between their self identified gender and the legal recognition are of fundamental importance to prevent violence and discrimination," he said.

According to a leaked memo obtained the New York Times, the Trump Administration is pushing federal agencies to narrow the definition of sex "on a biological basis" under Title IX--a civil rights law that bans discrimination on the basis of sex "any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

It could be enforced in a way that allows discrimination against transgender people in access to employment, health, school, and housing.

The U.N. delegation to the U.N. has also reportedly been seeking to remove references to "gender" in U.N. documents, another move signalling the government's rollback of protections and recognition of transgender people.

Similar actions can be seen around the world, including in Hungary where prime minister Viktor Orban banned gender studies programs at universities.

"The government's standpoint is that people are born either male or female, and we do not consider it acceptable for us to talk about socially constructed genders rather than biological sexes," a spokesperson for the prime minister said.

However, the has been some progress, said Madrigal-Borloz, whose report highlighted some of the international community's best practices on discrimination and violence against LGBT communities.

For instance, Uruguay, in recognition of diverse gender identities and the obstacles that transgender people face in exercising their rights under the law, implemented a program designed to help transgender people navigate the law as well as access social security programs and employment opportunities.

In New Zealand, people can choose to have their gender in their passport marked as male, female or a third category based solely on self-determined identity. This also applies to children under the age of 18.

"There is a historical recognition of the fact that a diversity of gender identities have been recognised in all cultures and traditions around the world and that the outlawing or stigmatising surrounding certain gender expressions have more the result of certain processes--in some cases colonial domination and in some cases normalisation based on certain conceptions of gender," Madrigal-Borloz said.

"But I do believe that there is enough evidence that in longstanding cultural and societal tradition, gender diversity has played a role in all corners of the world," he added, highlighting the need for the legal recognition of gender identity.

The U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also recently said that the organisation must "redouble" efforts to end violations against LGBT communities around the world.

"As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, let me underscore that the United Nations will never give up the fight until everyone can live free and equal in dignity and rights," he said.

While the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), globally adopted in 2016, do not explicitly mention LGBT communities, they still highlight the need to include everyone without discrimination.

"There is a situation that requires immediate and prompt action of the state to actually make sure that these persons are not left behind in the spirit of the Sustainable Development Goals," Madrigal-Borloz said.

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