The current pandemic highlights how inter-connected we all are. No matter where you live in the world, the progress of COVID-19 in Tehran ultimately affects New York City, the infection rate among homeless people in Las Vegas similarly translates to middle-class deaths in California.
The lesson here is that the “tyranny of small differences” – enacting or upholding discriminatory laws regarding sexual orientation or gender identity – is ludicrous when our entire species is at a clear risk whether it is from global pandemics, nuclearization or climate change.
Yet bigots seem unable to rest – even temporarily – from fighting the ineluctable progress of human rights of LGBT+ people. Two negative moves in Idaho, USA and Singapore yesterday reminded us that our journey is far from over and that we should not get distracted from our struggle for the global acceptance of LGBT+ people.
In the midst of one of the worst crisis that the US has ever experienced, the Idaho governor, a well-established hard-core conservative named Brad Little, felt the need to sign two bills that limit the rights of transgender people and directly violate international standards.
As a reminder, Idaho has 400 coronavirus cases as of yesterday. House Bill 500, also known as the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, says “athletic teams or sports designated for females, women, or girls shall not be open to students of the male sex.” The measure says that a “dispute” about an athlete’s gender can only be resolved by examining “the student’s reproductive anatomy, genetic makeup, or normal endogenously 19 produced testosterone levels.” Little also signed into law Monday, House Bill 509, which prohibits transgender people from obtaining a new birth certificate with their gender identity on it.
These bills, besides being clearly stigmatizing, antagonistic and humiliating for our trans sisters, are in clear contravention from the recommendations of the United Nations Human Rights institutions and international best practice.
The UN Born Free and Equal brochure reminds us as an example that “in the case of G. v. Australia, the Human Rights Committee found that Australia’s refusal for a trans woman to change the sex marker on her birth certificate to align with her gender identity, unless she divorced from her spouse, constituted arbitrary or unlawful interference with her privacy and family, as well as discrimination on the basis of marital and transgender status.”
Similarly, the International Olympic Committee ruled in 2016 that transgender athletes can take part in Olympics without surgery. Female-to-male trans athletes can compete ‘without restriction’, while male-to-female athletes must undergo hormone therapy, according to the IOC guidelines.
Attacks against LGBT+ people in the midst of the pandemic are also continuing abroad, and yesterday a constitutional challenge to the law that criminalizes homosexuality was dismissed by Singapore’s High Court, meaning that same-sex intimacy is still a crime in the country. The case, one of only very few human rights cases to be brought in the conservative city-state, challenged the constitutionality of Section 377A, a law that criminalizes acts of ‘gross indecency’ between men.
This decision is also contravening international human rights standards. In a 2016 report, the Special Rapporteur on torture best summarized the view of international tribunals:
“States are complicit in violence against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons whenever they create and implement discriminatory laws that trap them in abusive circumstances.”
Not a good look for Singapore in 2020 which is entirely reliant on talent for its competitiveness.
Our friend Téa Braun, Director of the Human Dignity Trust was quoted as commenting on the decision: “In declining to strike out this archaic and discriminatory law, the Court has reaffirmed that all gay men in Singapore are effectively un-apprehended criminals”.
We are organizing a 30-minute briefing this Thursday, April 2 that will include the case lawyers and Pink Dot activists to better understand the complex 1,000-page document issued by the Supreme Court in Singapore. Out Leadership will share a recording of this briefing afterwards!
These two unfortunate developments are a wake-up call, including for the business community, reminding us that LGBT+ advances are still in jeopardy amidst the current crisis.
We need to be vigilant and continue to invest in fostering urgent global social change: Out Leadership is more committed than ever to continue working towards LGBT+ equality.