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CHILE: Petition to preserve religious liberty in Chile launched

Catholic News Agency (23.02.2021) – https://bit.ly/3uCbPQG – Alliance Defending Freedom International has launched a petition addressed to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to rule in favor of religious freedom in Chile.


The ruling will have ramifications for all member states of the Organization of American States.


The petition campaign addresses the case of Sandra Pavez, a lesbian and former nun. The Diocese of San Bernardo did not renew her certificate of suitability to continue teaching religion classes in 2007 because Pavez chose to cohabit with her female partner and go public with the relationship.


Bishop Juan Ignacio González Errazuriz of San Bernardo had informed Pavez that if she continued in that relationship “he would be obliged to revoke her certificate of suitability, for not giving ‘the witness of a Christian life’, which the Catholic Church expects from its teachers,” the campaign explains.


Religion classes in Chile are governed by Decree 924 of 1983, issued by the country’s Ministry of Education, which requires all schools to offer optional religion classes in accordance with the student’s religion. The decree also states that the teacher must have a certificate of suitability issued by “the corresponding religious authority,” in this case the Bishop of San Bernardo. The decree also empowers that authority to revoke the certificate of suitability, which Bishop González did.


Consequently, Pavez “could not continue teaching that specific class.”


The revocation of the certificate of suitability to teach Catholic religion classes entailed “no negative judgement about the professional competence of Pavez, nor was her right to continue teaching other subjects questioned, even in the same establishment.”


“This is in fact what happened, without Pavez losing even for a moment the source of her livelihood, nor was she removed from the school community,” the campaign notes.


Pavez sued the Catholic Church for discrimination and filed for an injunction with the San Miguel Court of Appeals. The court denied the injunction, ruling that the revocation was neither illegal nor arbitrary, and Chile’s Supreme Court confirmed the appeal court’s decision.


In 2008, the teacher took her case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights based in Washington, D.C, “which agreed with her, stating that she has the right to teach Catholic religion classes even against the objection of her church and that the faith communities cannot require teachers’ conduct to be faithful to their beliefs, not even in private schools.”


The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, located in Costa Rica, now has the case, with a decision forthcoming some time in 2021.


Both the Inter-American Commission and the Inter-American Court are organs of the OAS to protect human rights in the hemisphere.


Those signing the petition hope that the court will consider “all the interests and rights involved, since we know that what it decides in this case may create ramifications that will extend to the exercise and enjoyment of our rights in the states we live in,” the campaign states.


ADF International warns the decision will determine whether religious schools “will be able to ensure that their religious educators fulfill their obligation of fidelity … that they voluntarily profess.”


In addition, the decision will also determine “whether states will respect the right of parents to have their children receive a religious education that is consistent with their convictions.”

“International human rights law recognizes as a central element in the teaching of religion – which is a manifestation of freedom of religion – the freedom of each religious community to choose who will teach it on their behalf.”


Likewise, “human rights treaties also recognize for us, parents, the freedom and right to guarantee that our children receive a moral and religious education that is in accordance with our convictions,” the campaign adds.


“By virtue of our freedom of religion, we have an expressly recognized and protected right to spread our faith, starting with ensuring that it will be transmitted to our children.”

Signers of the petition consider the “consistency of life” of those who teach religion to be “absolutely central.”


Photo credits: GUNDAM_Ai / Shutterstock

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TURKEY: Government steps up its defamation on LGBTI+ citizens

Europe’s leading LGBTI+ rights organisation, ILGA-Europe are alarmed to observe that in the past week the Turkish government has stepped up its systematic attacks on and defamation of LGBTI+ people and calls on President Erdoğan to guarantee the fundamental rights of all minorities without discrimination, as enshrined in the country’s Constitution.

Ilga (05.02.2021) – https://bit.ly/3aFNksF – Over the past week in Turkey, both government and government-supported media have called LGBTI+ people a “disgrace”, “dirty” and “perverts”, which has prompted a wave of hate-speech on social media.


President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held video conferences on Monday 1 February and Wednesday 3 February denouncing LGBT people and praising his supporters saying: “We will carry our young people to the future, not as the LGBT youth, but as the youth that existed in our nation’s glorious past.”


On February 2, Justice Minister and the Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu called LGBT people “perverts” on Twitter. The social media platform has since flagged the tweet as violating its rules against “hateful conduct”.


This new campaign takes place in the context of rising hateful rhetoric against the LGBTI+ community by representatives of high-level religious and political institutions in Turkey, as well as actions and legislation attacking human rights defenders and civil society organisations.


Crackdown on freedom


The step-up in governmental anti-LGBTI+ rhetoric comes as academic staff and students at Boğaziçi University of Istanbul have been protesting the appointment of the University’s new Rector, Melih Bulu, by President Erdoğan on 1 January 2021. Melih Bulu’s appointment is being protested because Bulu is the first appointed rector from outside the University, a move that further extends the government’s crackdown on academic freedom in Turkey.


The new Rector is a long-standing ally of President Erdoğan and his ruling party, and has held different positions in the party for years. He has supported anti-LGBTI+ statements from the Erdoğan government. Professors at Boğaziçi University and students alike are concerned about the future of academic freedom, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of association at the University.


Using COVID-19 to slander LGBTI people


In addition to the systematic attacks and bans that Turkey’s LGBTI+ movement has experienced at the hands of Turkish authorities since 2015, in 2020 the government seized upon the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to slander LGBTI+ people. In April last year, the President of the Directorate of Religious Affairs, Ali Erbaş targeted LGBTI+ people and people living with HIV, equating homosexuality with a disease, stating that “hundreds of thousands of people a year are exposed to the HIV virus caused by this great haram, which passes as adultery in the Islamic Literature,” and blaming lesbian and gay people for COVID-19. He was quickly supported by leading governmental figures including the Minister of Family, Labour and Social Services, and President Erdoğan himself.


According to Evelyne Paradis, Executive Director of ILGA-Europe: “The Turkish government has an obligation to protect everyone from hate crime and discrimination, and should not be part of any statements that could encourage hate crimes and target any minority group, including LGBTI+ people.


“We recall that as a founding member of the United Nations, Turkey pledged to protect inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family. In addition, as a Member State of the Council of Europe and having ratified the European Convention of Human Rights, Turkey must uphold European human rights law, which prohibits a discriminatory application of human rights.


“We call on Turkey to respect, guarantee, protect and fulfil the fundamental rights of the LGBTI+ community without discrimination as enshrined in its Constitution and equality article therein, and ratified by human rights treaty bodies,” Paradis concluded.

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AUSTRALIA: Sydney women-only ocean pool under fire over transgender policy

Social media users criticise the exclusion of some trans women at McIver’s Ladies Baths, forcing a change of policy wording.


By Helen Sullivan


The Guardian (12.01.2021) – https://bit.ly/38CGwMy – A women-only ocean pool in Sydney’s eastern suburbs has come under fire over a policy that excluded transgender women who had not had surgical intervention.


The McIver’s Ladies Baths’ policy on transgender women, published on the FAQ section of its website, has been changed twice since attention was drawn to it on Monday afternoon.


Under the question “Are transgender women allowed?” the website’s response on Monday read: “Only transgender women who’ve undergone gender reassignment surgery are allowed entry. Please contact us for further information if required.”


After social media users questioned the policy and called for swimmers to contact Randwick council, the Randwick & Coogee Ladies Swimming Association changed the website to read: “McIver’s Ladies Baths has an exemption under the Anti-Discrimination Act awarded in 1995.


“Only women and children (boys up to 13 years of age) are permitted entry. If you wish to make any further inquiries please contact the Randwick city council.”


The 1995 exemption, which allows the baths to be a women-only space, was made “indefinite” in 2018.


On Monday afternoon a post on the McIver’s Facebook page quoted the 1995 exemption and called for people to direct “any information regarding transgender people needs” to Randwick council.


Below the post was a fierce debate of more than 3,000 comments from a mix of people who support allowing transgender women into the baths and those who do not. The Facebook post has since been taken down.


This is not the first time that women-only swimming spots have faced backlash over allowing or not allowing trans women to use their spaces. In 2019, London’s Hampstead Heath ladies’ pond formalised the rights of transgender women to use the pool after intense debate and protests by a radical feminist group.


On Tuesday morning, after staff at Randwick council requested that the website wording be changed again, the McIver’s FAQ response was modified to say: “Yes. Transgender women are welcome to the McIver’s Ladies Baths, our definition for transgender is as per the NSW Discrimination Act.”


A spokesperson for Randwick council confirmed in an email to Guardian Australia that the council had requested the change “to reflect [the baths’] actual policy position more accurately.”


A statement from the council on Tuesday afternoon said: “Randwick council is an inclusive organisation that values diversity in our community, and have always supported the inclusion of transgender women at McIver’s Ladies Baths.” The statement reiterated that the R&CLSA, which sub-leases the baths from the council, “are ultimately responsible for management and entry to the baths”.


“It is our understanding the association has always had a policy of inclusion and we have been in contact with the management of the baths to ask them to more accurately communicate this inclusive position on the issue on their website,” the statement said.


While the NSW anti-discrimination law defines trans women as all trans people who live or seek to live as women, the law recognises only some transgender people as legally being the gender they identify with, according to Newcastle University. There is a different definition under the law for “recognised” transgender people, who are required to have had “sex affirmation surgery”. The Australian Human Rights Commission has criticised this system, and recommended that individuals be allowed to decide their own gender identities without needing surgery.


It is unclear from the latest FAQ response on the McIver’s website whether the definition of trans women “as per the NSW discrimination act” refers to the specific definition of “recognised” trans women, or whether it refers to all trans women. In other words, all trans people who live or seek to live as women.


If it refers to “recognised” trans women, the current FAQ response would have the same meaning as the first response, allowing “only transgender women who’ve undergone gender reassignment surgery” to enter the baths.


Liam Elphick, a discrimination expert and associate lecturer in Monash University’s law faculty, said that if the latest policy was referring to the latter definition, it offered “strong protection for trans women who identify as trans women,” who should, under the law, need to demonstrate only that they live or intend to live as a woman – rather than needing to provide documentation – but that it was “far less strong” for those with non-binary gender identities.


“We have discrimination laws all throughout the country,” he said, “and organisations should act not just in accordance with those laws, but as best as possible in the spirit of those laws. And those laws require that we do not discriminate in the provision of goods and services against transgender people.”


Equality Australia’s CEO, Anna Brown, told the Guardian: “All Australians should be treated equally and allowed to live with dignity as who they are. No woman, whether trans or not, should be forced to reveal any part of her body as a condition for accessing public facilities.” She said the NSW law was out of date, and “should be updated to remove confusion and bring it into line with more contemporary anti-discrimination acts in other states and federally”.


She also noted that the stigma faced by trans women often leads them to exclude themselves from health and fitness activities.


It is unclear how the policy will be enforced. Entry to the baths is permitted by a group of volunteers at busy times, and at other times swimmers throw a $2.50 payment into a box before entering.


The Randwick & Coogee Ladies Swimming Association could not be reached for comment.

Photo: McIver’s Ladies Baths at South Coogee. The pool’s policy on transgender women, published on the FAQ section of its website, has been changed since attention was drawn to it. Credit: Carly Earl/The Guardian.

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El SALVADOR: No safe haven for LGBT people

Strengthen protections, end asylum pact with US.


By Neela Ghoshal


HRW (08.01.2021) – https://bit.ly/3qkN5ZV – Salvadoran president Nayib Bukele agreed on December 15 to implement an Asylum Cooperative Agreement with the US government. It allows US immigration authorities to transfer non-Salvadoran asylum seekers to El Salvador, instead of allowing them to seek asylum in the US.


US President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to terminate the deeply flawed agreement, a deeply flawed deal that presupposes El Salvador can provide a full and fair asylum procedure and protect refugees. But for some groups, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, El Salvador provides no safe haven. Its own LGBT citizens lack protection from violence and discrimination.


A recent Human Rights Watch report confirms the Salvadoran government’s own acknowledgment that LGBT people face “torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, excessive use of force, illegal and arbitrary arrests and other forms of abuse, much of it committed by public security agents.” Social and economic marginalization further increase the risk of violence. Many LGBT people flee from home.


Between January 2007 and November 2017, over 1,200 Salvadorans sought asylum in the US due to fear of persecution for their sexual orientation or gender identity. In a groundbreaking judgment, a UK court recently granted asylum to a non-binary Salvadoran, finding that their gender expression exposed them to police violence and daily abuse and degradation.


Five years ago, El Salvador seemed poised to champion LGBT rights. It joined the UN LGBTI Core Group. It increased sentences for bias-motivated crimes. Its Sexual Diversity Directorate trained public servants and monitored government policies for LGBT inclusiveness.


Bukele, then a local official, pledged to be “on the right side of history” on LGBT rights. When he ran for president, his promises dissolved. He opposed marriage equality, effectively shut down the government’s sexual diversity work, and refused to support legal gender recognition for trans people. Despite the landmark conviction of three police officers in July for killing a trans woman, violence remains commonplace, and justice out of reach, for many LGBT people.


The Salvadoran government should back a gender identity law and comprehensive civil non-discrimination legislation, prosecute anti-LGBT hate crimes, and reestablish a well-resourced office to promote inclusion and eradicate anti-LGBT violence. It should axe the Asylum Cooperative Agreement.


As things stand, El Salvador fails to provide effective protection to its own LGBT citizens, let alone LGBT people fleeing persecution elsewhere.

Photo: A transgender woman shows a photograph of Camila Díaz, whom she met while migrating to the US, where they both turned themselves in to immigration authorities. Both women were eventually deported. © 2020 AP Photo/Salvador Melendez.

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SCOTLAND: Legal challenge over definition of ‘woman’ gets under way

A legal challenge over the definition of the word “woman” has begun at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.


By Kirsty McIntosh

The Courier (07.01.2021) – https://bit.ly/2JS3dme – Campaign group For Women Scotland is challenging the Scottish Government over the wording of the Gender Representation on Public Boards Act 2018.


The legislation, which was passed two years ago, aims to increase the number of women in senior positions on public bodies.


Its wording covers trans women who hold a gender recognition certificate, which changes their legal gender from male to female, as well as those who are “living as a woman” and are “proposing to undergo” such a change “for the purpose of becoming female”.


Virtual hearing


However, For Women Scotland say that definition clashes with the UK Government’s Equality Act 2010, which defines a woman as a female of any age.


For Women Scotland’s website says the group’s aim is “To stop the Scottish Government redefining ‘woman’ to include men”.


They believe the Scottish Government has acted outwith its powers, as the matter is reserved to Westminster, and believe MSPs are breaching their responsibilities to equality legislation.


The group was granted a judicial review, to be heard by Lady Wise.


The matter is being heard in a virtual hearing at the Court of Session today and tomorrow.


The hearing will also receive submissions from human rights lawyers Just Right Scotland on behalf of Scottish Trans, which is part of LGBT organisation Equality Network.


The submission includes a 5,000 word document detailing the experience of transwomen living in Scotland.


The Equality network believes that if the challenge is successful it will discriminate against transwomen.


Previous controversy


It comes just weeks after the Scottish Parliament debated an amendment to the Forensic Medical Services Bill.


The Bill aims to improve services for those who have experienced rape or sexual assault by allowing access to a forensic medical examination without the need to report to the police.


Johann Lamont tabled an amendment of just six words – “for the word ‘gender’ substitute ‘sex’” –  after stating that the original wording “could be ambiguous in the bill, which has the potential to cause distress to individuals undergoing forensic medical examination”.


The change allows rape survivors to request that an examination be carried out by an individual of the same sex.


The Scottish Government initially rejected this argument, but ministers backed the amendment on Thursday.


The change in wording was backed by 113 MSPs.


The issue led Scottish Greens MSP Andy Wightman to quit the party after disagreeing with their stance on the issue.


All members of the Scottish Green Party, as well as the Lib Dems, voted against the amendment.


For Women Scotland has a list of the group’s beliefs on its website, including that “sex is immutable and is a protected characteristic”.


They also believe that “women are entitled to privacy, dignity, safety and fairness”.


And “women’s rights should be strengthened”.


Members say they “campaign on a positive, pro-women basis and we call for evidence-based discussion and legislation”.

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