LGBT Violence and Discrimination is “Disastrous”

Two marchers in Taiwan’s annual LGBT Pride March in Taipei City affirm that “I am proud to be gay; I’m not a sex refugee!” United Nations independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity Victor Madrigal-Borloz exsaid levels of violence towards and the lack of recognition of gender identities, especially transgender people, stating that the situation is “disastrous.” Credit: Dennis Engbarth/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 27 2018 (IPS)

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.

Trump and Bolsonaro: Alarming Similarities

Demonstration in São Paulo to protest against presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro. Credit: Rovena Rosa/Fotos Públicas

Demonstration in São Paulo to protest against presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro. Credit: Rovena Rosa/Fotos Públicas

By Brent Millikan
BRASILIA, Oct 27 2018 (IPS)

Observing recent political developments in the United States and Brazil, there are clearly similarities between the phenomena of ‘Trumpism’ and ‘Bolsonarism’ that do not seem to be a mere coincidence.

In both cases, far-right politicians have opportunistically exploited, for electoral purposes, frustrated expectations of millions of people in situations of increasing social and economic vulnerability.

In the US, the ‘American dream’ has become increasingly elusive for the majority of the population, largely as a reflection of perverse effects of increasingly globalized capitalism, coupled with neoliberal policies promoted by both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Despite important advances during the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton’s campaign clearly suffered from a legacy of neoliberal policies – such as NAFTA, launched during her husband’s administration – that aggravated social and economic inequalities.

To make matters worse, as a candidate, she paid relatively little attention to the electorate in places such as Michigan that have suffered the effects of deindustrialization, with worsening unemployment and low wages.  Of course, the Clintons’ ties to Wall Street did not help to counter the perception of being part of the Washington establishment. All of this facilitated the maneuvers of a right-wing populist billionaire characterizing himself as a champion of workers ‘forgotten’ by the Democratic party.

In Brazil, a serious economic crisis and mega corruption scandals revealed by the Lava Jato investigations, involving traditional political parties like the PMDB, PSDB and PT, led to a generalized revolt with the political class among voters, including the poor, not only hurting the candidacy of Fernando Haddad, but others with a center-left profile who had ties in the past with the PT, such as Ciro Gomes and Marina Silva.

As in the United States, an extreme right-wing candidacy in Brazil knew how to exploit political space associated with growing inequalities and errors committed by traditional social democratic parties.

A common tactic used by Trump and Bolsonaro is to propagate nostalgia for an idealized past that the ‘hero’ candidate promises to bring back miraculously.

Some bet that once sworn in, Trump could adopt a kind of moderate pragmatism …. What has happened over the past two years is just the opposite. The Trump administration has launched a widespread and systematic attack on democratic institutions in the United State. Based on experience with Trump, whom Bolsonaro sees as an ‘excellent president’ … it’s hard to find grounds for optimism … other than capacity of resistance of the Brazilian people. Better not to fall off the cliff

The Trump campaign adopted as a slogan ‘Make America Great Again’ disregarding ‘details’ of American history, such as the genocide of indigenous peoples, slavery and long periods of discrimination against women, blacks, and migrants. On the other hand, the mythic Bolsonaro evokes nostalgia for the years of Brazil’s bloody military dictatorship during 1964-1985, including apologies for the use of torture.

A common pillar of the strategies of Trump and Bolsonaro has been to incite fear, anger and hatred, with apologies to violence, transforming certain individuals and groups into enemies that are declared guilty of all ills afflicting society.

For Trump and his followers, favorite targets have included, among others, populations of new migrants – characterizing Mexicans as ‘rapists’ and Muslims as ‘terrorists’ – blacks and, of course, Democratic opponents, especially leaders such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. (Meanwhile, Trump has surfed a positive economic wave, initiated during the Obama administration, giving all credit to himself).

For Bolsonaro, the long list of public enemies includes –  in addition to the Workers’ Party and supposed ‘communists’ –  indigenous peoples, quilombolas (descendants of African slaves), the LGBT movement, environmentalists, a national landless farmers’ movement (MST), human rights defenders and activists in general, as well as environmental agencies such as IBAMA and ICMBio..  Another characteristic of both Trump and Bolsonaro is extreme misogynism, encouraging disrespect and outright violence against women.

Another striking resemblance between Trump and Bolsonaro is the antagonism directed at vehicles of the mainstream press that demonstrate critical and independent positions, such as the CNN, The New York Times and Folha de São Paulo.

Accusations of ‘fake news’ appear when stories are released that reveal inconvenient truths, contradicting narrow political interests. Meanwhile, distorted and false information, appealing to fear, prejudice and rage against adversaries are disseminated en masse via social media, such as Facebook and whatsapp.

A direct result of the attacks on the press and the incitement to hatred of ‘enemies’ is the escalation of violence that rapidly spins out of control, as demonstrated by the violence around the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia last year, and the serie of pipe bombs sent this week to several of Trump’s favorite targets : CNN, the Clinton and Obama families, former President Joe Biden, Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, actor Robert De Niro, and billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros, among others.

In Brazil, serious acts of violence by Bolsonaro followers have begun to appear, such as the murder of capoeira master Moa do Katendê, stabbed to death in Bahia by a partisan of the reformed captain. Meanwhile, there are growing threats to the Brazilian press, as in the case of Folha de São Paulo.

Following the publication of a story about how entrepreneurs linked to Bolsonarism contracted services for the mass dissemination via social media of false news about Haddad’s candidacy, the Folha made a formal request for police protection for its journalists.

Another similarity between the two politicians is the courtship of conservative evangelical churches with moralistic discourses on issues such as the prohibition of abortion and gay marriage, while signalling economic advantages to churches and their leaders (almost always white men).

Many of the tactics adopted by Trumpism and Bolsonarism – which seem inspired by the playbook of Joseph Goebbels, propaganda minister of the Nazis between 1933 and 1945 – are better understood when one considers the economic interests to which they are linked.

In Trump’s case, the influence of the oil and coal industries stands out. In the case of the Bolsonario, the overarching influence of the conversative agribusiness lobby, known as ruralistas, blatantly clear. In both cases, one finds the private interests of powerful groups associated with the private appropriation of territories, open public spaces, for the extensive exploitation of natural resources (logging, cattle ranching, land speculation, mechanized soybeans and mining), disregarding social and environmental damage borne by local populations (indigenous peoples, quilombolas and family farmers) and society in general.

Trump’s and Bolsonaro’s marketeers have invested heavily in creating the image of a “new” politician. This contrasts with archaic models of developmentalism promoted in practice, based on predatory exploitation of natural resources, lacking technological innovation and value added, such as the large-scale export of soybeans.

Ignored are challenges associated with climate change, reaching the UN sustainable development goals for 2030, as well as opportunities that Brazil possesses, with its enormous cultural and biological diversity, and its creative potential to generate income with quality jobs, associated with a new economy in the 21st century –  based on technological innovation, respect for cultural diversity and environmental sustainability.

When Trump was able to win the US presidential election in 2016 (losing to Hillary Clinton in the popular vote, but narrowly gaining in the archaic voting college), many questioned to what extent the far right rhetoric of the campaign would be put into practice. Some bet that once sworn in, Trump could adopt a kind of moderate pragmatism. What has happened over the past two years is just the opposite.

In practice, Trump’s administration has been charcaterized by a widespread and systematic attack on democratic institutions, including social security, health and public education programs. The treatment of migrants (including Brazilians) includes characteristics of cruelty, as in the case of detention and separation of young children from their parents.

Unashamedly, the Trump administration is attempting to dismantle the Obama’s clean energy program, while creating incentives to the coal and oil industry without a minimum of environmental safeguards. In addition, it has sought to systematically dismantle policies for the protection of water and air quality, historical achievements dating back to the 1970s.

The Trump government is determined to eliminate as much as possible natural heritage and environmental protection areas, such as the Bear Ears National Monument in Utah State (created by Obama and reduced by 85%) to facilitate exploitation of oil exploitation and fracking. His nominee to chair the EPA, Scott Pruitt, took office with the explicit mission of undermining the functioning of this vital institution. Moreover, Trump’s announcement of abandoning the Paris Agreement constitutes a risk of planetary dimensions.

Unscrupulously, Trump has used the machinery of government to favor his private interests, such as real estate deals, undermining US foreign policy in cases such as Russia and Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, with the full endorsement of the president, the Republican party has stepped up efforts to undermine voting rights, especially of the poor and Afro-AmericAN citizens, while redrawing voting districts (‘gerrymandering’) to consolidate political power.

Fortunately, there are important examples of resistance in the US from democratic institutions, citizen action (with women playing a fundamental role), and state and local governments.  Many are confident that the Democrats, including many progressive candidates, will be able to take back the House of Representatives in the November 6th mid-term election. However, there is a persistent sense that of democracy’s fragility, and its need for constant vigilance.

Returning to Bolsonaro, many in Brazil are wondering what will happen if he wins the run-off election on October 28th, as predicted by public opinion polls.  To what extent will Bolsonaro respect the Federal Constitution and democratic institutions? Will he attempt to criminalize social movements to the point of treating them as terrorists, as promised?

To what extent will he continue to incite prejudice and hatred against blacks, women, indigenous peoples and other ‘enemies’? Will he pursue his plans to dismantle Brazil’s progressive environmental policies, including a proposal to merge the ministries of the environment and agriculture, under the leadership of the ruralista bloc? Will he go ahead with his announcement to pull Brazil out of the Paris Agreement, following the example of Trump, that could bring disastrous political, economic and environmental consequences for Brazil, while damaging global efforts to address the climate crisis?

Looking at the case of Trump, whom Bolsonaro considers an “excellent president,” it’s  difficult to find much room for optimism in relation to such questions, other than the resilience of the Brazilian people.  Better not to fall off the cliff. Hopefully, the experience of Trumpism in the USA will help serve as a warning call to Brazilians of current dangers to their young democracy, and the need for the country to find its own path with wisdom, solidarity and joy, before it is too late.