New fund aims to help endangered LGBT people flee

Denis LeBlanc, Editor

Click image to link to the Safe Passage Fund.

Click image to link to the Safe Passage Fund.

A new emergency fund is seeking contributions to help LGBT people and allies flee from “immediate threats of arrest, attacks, violence and persecution in countries where harsh laws have fostered a climate of extreme homophobia.”

This global, United States-based fund joins several existing Uganda-based funds that are assisting LGBT people during the crisis triggered by passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill there.

A Ugandan health worker sought by police for alleged “support of homosexuality” at an HIV clinic is the new fund’s first case.

The HIV clinic volunteer, Dorcas Awena, would be flown to Canada if the remaining cost of her airfare is raised, The Advocate reported.

The new Safe Passage Fund is sponsored by the longstanding Urgent Action Fund.

The new Safe Passage Fund is sponsored by the Urgent Action Fund.

The announcement of the Safe Passage Fund by its sponsoring organization, the Urgent Action Fund, states that contributions “will be used exclusively for emergency support to help individuals in immediate danger seeking refuge elsewhere.”  The announcement did not mention costs of resettlement and the expenses incurred in the asylum process.

ill be used exclusively for emergency support to help individuals in immediate danger seeking refuge elsewhere – See more at: http://urgentactionfund.org/2014/04/uaf-hosts-new-fund-to-support-lgbtq-activists-in-uganda/#sthash.Yg7OoXGv.dpuf

Any additional funds that are raised will be disbursed among LGBT people and activists in Uganda, Nigeria, Russia, and elsewhere seeking immediate safe passage out of homophobic environments, the Advocate article said.

As of April 19, the fund had raised $2,820 of its $5,000 goal.

Image from Kenyan protest, used to promote the Rescue Fund to Help LGBT People Escape Africa

Image from Kenyan protest, used to promote the Rescue Fund to Help LGBT People Escape Africa

The Safe Passage Fund was created more than a month after the Rescue Fund to Help LGBT People Escape Africa was launched by South Africa native Melanie Nathan, an advocacy blogger in  California. She raised $14,000 in emergency funds through an Indiegogo campaign.

That fund came under attack by several activists, including social commentator Melanie Judge, who wrote for The Guardian:

The forced flight of LGBTI from persecutory regimes will require interventions to provide places of refuge and safety. However, promoting an “escape” from Africa to “greener” US pastures, without simultaneously addressing the underlying conditions that force this migration, is dangerous and opportunistic.

Dislocated from Africa-based struggles for social justice, these feel-good interventions offer no long-term solution to the systemic issues that drive homophobia. At best they are palliative and patronising, at worst they reinforce the victimhood of Africans and the saviour status of westerners.

This is part of the logic that keeps the “homosexuality is un-African” discourse in play.

Nathan responded:

Some people have questioned the use of the word ESCAPE – concerned it taps into sterotyping views of Africa.  Allow me to explain. I have received scores of heartbreaking letters from persecuted LGBTI people who all have a common phrase:- “Please help me escape” – I am sorry to say but in the instance of this form of persecution – Africa had earned the truth! The truth being that there are thousands of Africans seeking to escape those who believe their love is “UNAFRICAN!”   Let me ask you – had Ann Frank said “Please help me escape?” Would you have denied her the use of the word?  Then why should Africans in hiding for persecution be forced to use another word?  I honor the request of the survivors of this persecution and will keep using the chosen word.

Nathan reported that her fund has provided shelter, safe housing, transport, passports and food for more than 30 LGBT people in Africa. On April 18, she launched a second fund on Indiegogo, LGBT Africa Rescue Fund 2, which seeks $5,200 to provide food, shelter and medicine for LGBTI Africans in hiding, as a result of new anti-gay laws.

These North America-based funds are in addition to Uganda-based fund drives.

Uganda-based funds

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera (Photo courtesy of Amnesty.fr)

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera (Photo courtesy of Amnesty.fr)

The Safety for Uganda LGBT Community and Court Cases fund drive was launched last week by Ugandan activist Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera on behalf of the coalition of Ugandan organizations fighting the anti-gay law, it seeks donations to help people under threat because of that law, including “safety funds, relocations and other emergency actions,” as well as lawyers’ costs and, if necessary, evacuation from the country. The fund was established on YouCaring.com in response to “illegal arrests and detentions, cases of suicide, evictions by landlords, beatings and lots of death threats,” in order to allow “LGBT Community Security Team [to] carry out its work effectively.”

So far, the fund has raised $2,780 of its $20,000 goal.

Also on YouCaring.com, gay-friendly Bishop Christopher Senyonjo has launched a campaign called Help St. Paul’s Provide Emergency Support to LGBT Ugandans in response to death threats targeting members of his St. Paul’s Reconciliation and Equality Centre (SPREC) in Kampala.

Senyonjo said he will disburse funds based on his assessment of community members’ greatest needs, including costs such as $24 for transportation to a rural community for safety, $40 for food for a month, $60 for emergency medical treatment for an injury and $200 for safe housing for three months for a community member who has received threats.

The first focus is on John and Claude, “loyal members of SPREC’s chapel,” who were warned by a group of motorcyclists before President Yoweri Museveni signed the anti-gay bill on Feb. 24, “Once Museveni signs the bill, we will beat you. If we get the chance, we will kill you. This is your warning.”

This fund has so far raised $2,690 of its $4,000 goal.

Those are in addition to the Protecting LGBT Ugandans from Mob Violence fund, also on YouCaring.com, launched in February. It has raised $7,796 of a $10,000 goal to support a Ugandan LGBT security team.

That money is for “supporting grassroots LGBT Ugandans to relocate to safer areas, funding security training, providing emergency support in times of dangers,” including $600 for security training for 70 high-risk community members; $250 per person for safe housing (which is in high demand); $50 per case for verification, documentation, and liaison with lawyers; $100 per week for a security hotline; and $50 per week for a safe meeting space for the security committee.

Eastern Uganda

At the new Safe Passage Fund, the first appeal focuses on Dorcas Awena, the HIV clinic volunteer at Gender-Equality and Health Organization (GEHO) who is reportedly facing arrest in Jinja, eastern Uganda. Activists there state:

Uganda map

Uganda map

Dorcas Awena is on the run.  She avoided arrest attempts three times this week. Her alleged crime: support of homosexuality.

Dorcas has worked since 2008 as a volunteer at an HIV program. Under Uganda’s draconian new Anti-Homosexuality Law, her actions are now deemed suspect and a possible crime.  Dorcas is in hiding, after her name was broadcast on six local radio stations in Eastern Uganda.

By the time you read this, it is possible Dorcas’ need for U.S. $300 for a flight out may have been met. However, the fund is seeking ongoing support to respond rapidly to the many probable pleas for rescues.

The Safe Passage Fund is an initiative of the well-established woman’s group, the Urgent Action Fund, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt and tax-deductible charity in the United States, and their sister group U.A.F.-Africa. The fund’s objective is to help the most desperate individuals to get to safety and, if required, evacuate them quickly with “rapid grants,” usually made within one to seven days.

Here’s a link for donations to the Safe Passage Fund. Donations can be made by credit card, debit care or with PayPal.

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Mugabe threatens gays; LGBT Zimbabweans respond

President Robert Mugabe lights flame at the National Sports Stadium to mark Zimbabwe's 34 years as an independent country. (Photo by Kudakwashe Hunda courtesy of The Herald)

President Robert Mugabe lights flame at the National Sports Stadium to mark Zimbabwe’s 34 years as an independent country. (Photo by Kudakwashe Hunda courtesy of The Herald)

LGBT persons in Zimbabwe have once again been reminded that they have a long way to go to win justice and fair play in their native land.

Thousands who gathered today in a Harare stadium and elsewhere to mark 34 years since the country’s independence from Britain once again heard vociferous homophobic rhetoric from the country’s octogenarian leader .

In his speech, aired live on national television, President Robert Mugabe threatened unspecified action against LGBT rights groups and their allies. He also promised to expel any foreign diplomats who are homosexual and gave his support to the harsh new Anti-Homosexuality Law in Uganda.

Mugabe denied that repression of LGBT people is a violation of human rights, arguing that same-sex love is inhuman.

In response to the speech, local LGBT people said they feared it would encourage Zimbabweans to attack them.

Mugabe said in his speech:

“Kune organisations dzinouya dzinodzi ndedzema homosexuals, (Those  organisations that are said to be homosexual groups,) take care. Warn them.

“Some years ago, l was warned that there was some secret organisation of that nature, which was addressing young men varimumauniversity nemuzvikoro (in universities sand schools) [urging them] to join them as homosexuals. This nonsense is from Europe. Keep their homosexual nonsense there and not cross over with it.

“We did not fight for this Zimbabwe so it can be a homosexual territory. We will never have that here. And, if there are any diplomats who will talk of any homosexuality, just tell me. We will kick them out of the country without any excuse. We won’t even listen. Kungoti chete ava vari homosexual, risati radoka tinenge tavakanda kunze kwenyika ino. (On any signal that they are homosexual, we will kick them out of the country before sunset.)”

Mugabe sympathised with Uganda and took a swipe at the West for supporting decriminalisation of sodomy and supposedly pushing for same-sex marriage:

Banner at the National Sports Stadium celebrates  Zimbabwe's 34 years as an independent country. (Photo by Lloyd Gumbo courtesy of The Herald)

Banner at the National Sports Stadium celebrates Zimbabwe’s 34 years as an independent country. (Photo by Lloyd Gumbo courtesy of The Herald)

“They even refuse today that, if a man has sex with another man, it’s wrong …

“If you pass a law that rejects homosexual marriages, [nations in the West say,] ‘We will punish you’ like what they are doing to Uganda and us. And they say they want you to believe that if a man gets another man and they have a homosexual relationship, they have human rights to do so.

“But that act is inhuman. It’s not human and human rights cannot derive from acts which are inhuman. That does not exist in jurisprudence. …”

“What is wrong is wrong and cannot be right. But they say, ‘No, human beings are free to marry each other.’

“Look at the absurdity of it all. When God created the world, we learned from the Bible, He created animals, forests, lastly He created man. Because man was lonely, He got from the side of man, a rib and created a woman … that’s the start of society as we know it from the Bible.”

Commenting on Mugabe’s remarks LGBT rights activists expressed mixed reactions. Some LGBT rights groups chose to remain silent for fear of being targeted.

A gay man from Masvingo said, “I attended the independence celebrations in Masvingo. The musicians there were chanting homophobic slogans with songs such as ‘Burn Homosexuals’ taking centre stage. People even started complaining that they are tired of hearing about homosexuals.  One thing’s for sure — this will influence people to attack us as and when they feel like. We are not only exposed but also made to feel vulnerable by such speeches.”

L.M., a gay man from Harare, said, “34 years of independence and all Mugabe can talk about is homosexuality and threatens human rights groups and defenders. This is a clear reminder that there is no freedom in Zimbabwe. You don’t need a rocket scientist to tell you this. He said it loud and clear.”

C.G., a human rights defender, added, “Mugabe acts like Zimbabwe is his personal fiefdom. People want solutions to the many challenges facing Zimbabwe — 90% unemployment — yet all he can do is attack a minority group and threaten those advancing human rights. I am sure people are tired of this homophobic rhetoric.”

A.M., an activist, said:

“Much as they are repeated over and over again, we cannot underestimate the power of such homophobic speeches. LGBT people will face violence, media and police will perpetuate homophobia, which is coming from the state.

“Instead of preaching love, peace and tolerance, 34 years later he is spreading targeted violence on a vulnerable group of people.”

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2 Ugandans face trial on gay-sex charges

Two Ugandans accused of homosexual activity are scheduled to face trial in May.  They have been held in Luzira Prison since their arrest in January.

Luzira Prison (Photo courtesy of Monitor.ug)

Luzira Prison (Photo courtesy of Monitor.ug)

Kim Mukisa, 24, a businessman, and Jackson Mukasa,  19, pleaded not guilty Feb. 6 in a court in Kampala, where they were accused of “living as husband and wife,” the Monitor of Uganda reported.

They were sent to prison because they did not have the sureties needed to apply for release on bail, the Monitor reported.

The arrest and their trial are on charges of sexual activity “against the order of nature” under Uganda’s amended Penal Code Act of 1950.  The crime is punishable by up to a life sentence, but until the passage in December of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which prohibits “promoting homosexuality,” the former law was rarely enforced. Reportedly, the trial of Mukisa and Mukasa would be the first such proceeding under that law.

The Guardian reported that on April 16 prosecutors said they had sufficient evidence against Mukisa and Mukasa to take them to trial.

They are expected to defend themselves during the trial, which is scheduled to start on  May 7, The Guardian said.

President Yoweri Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law on Feb. 24. It provides for imprisonment for five to seven years for anyone convicted of “promoting homosexuality” or who  “in any way abets homosexuality and related practices.”

Among other provisions, it also calls for:

  • Forced medical examinations for anyone accused of being HIV-positive and of committing homosexual acts, which is termed “aggravated homosexuality,” also punishable by life imprisonment.
  • Life imprisonment for same-sex marriage.
  • Imprisonment for seven years for the “director or proprietor or promoter” of a company or association that is convicted of “promoting homosexuality.”
  • Five to seven years in prison for anyone who “offers premises and other related fixed or movable assets for purposes of homosexuality or promoting homosexuality,” including landlords who rent to LGBT rights groups.

[This article was revised April 23, 2014, to correct the date of the men's arrest, which was in January rather than in December. The headline was also changed to "2 Ugandans face trial on gay-sex charges" from "2 Ugandan men face trial on gay-sex charges."

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Jamaica youth minister to develop plans for LGBT homeless youth

Edited by Denis LeBlanc

LGBT youths living in drainage sewer system in New Kingston, Jamaica. (Click image for video.)

LGBT youths living in drainage sewer system in New Kingston, Jamaica. (Click image for video.)

The Jamaican Minister of Youth and Culture the Hon. Lisa Hanna announced on April 15 that the Youth Ministry is in the process of developing new services, initiatives and programmes to address the needs of Jamaica’s children and youth. These groups include youth with sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) issues.

The announcement appeared Wednesday, April 16, on the Facebook page of the Jamaican Ministry of Youth and Culture. Regrettably there was no reference to any timeline for the implementation of these plans to help Jamaica’s very vulnerable LGBT youth.  I hope this is not just another political platitude, like the Jamaican P.M.’s 2011 campaign promise to call for a Parliamentary review of the anti-sodomy law.  On April 3, the PM stated that this review would not happen any time soon as it did not affect “the majority of Jamaicans who are poor.

I suspect the April 15 meeting called by the Youth Minister and the subsequent announcement were the result of the work being done by Dwayne’s House to bring local and international attention to the barbaric conditions under which Jamaican homeless LGBT youth are forced to live.  Some of these youngsters were kicked out as young as 10 years old and are now living in the sewers of the capital city, Kingston, where they sell sex to survive.

The Chair of Dwayne’s House, Yvonne McCalla-Sobers, gave a presentation to the Minister and others at Tuesday’s meeting and provided an update on what Dwayne’s House is doing to assist the homeless LGBT youth.  These interventions include providing food and clothing as well as, arranging for basic medical care and coordinating legal assistance (e.g., finding legal aid lawyers, paying some small fines and posting bail).

The following was posted April 16th on the Facebook page of the Jamaican Ministry of Youth:

Youth Ministry to develop programmes to address LGBT youth, homeless, destitute and vulnerable children

Kingston, April 15, 2013: The Minister of Youth and Culture the Hon. Lisa Hanna has disclosed that the Youth Ministry is now in the process of developing new services, initiatives and programmes to address the ever- changing and complex needs of today’s children and youth. This, she says is necessary, if the Government is to adequately and effectively address the challenges, concerns and needs of the different types of youth the Ministry serves.

These groups include, but are not limited to, Lesbian, Gays, Bisexual and Transgender(LGBT) youth, Men who have sex with Men (MSMs) and youth with sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) issues.

The Youth Minister was speaking at the Panos Caribbean Stakeholder Conference held at the Terra Nova Hotel this morning, April 15, 2014.

” As the Minister of Youth and Culture, I’m responsible for all children and this is not to dismiss the individual and specific challenges of any grouping but to make it clear that we will have to do away with the hypodermic needle approach and develop and implement targeted interventions for each grouping”

Minister Hanna explained that given the lack of data on LGBT youth, the stakeholder consultation is  not only timely but necessary as it will provide the Ministry with a better understanding  of what the issues are. Additionally, the consultation will identify workable solutions and best practices on how to care and protect those young people who are homeless, destitute and vulnerable especially those belonging to a sexual minority or who are viewed as ‘different’ in any way.

“Jamaica has to now understand the issues facing our children. It is not only our duty provide shelter and protection for those children who have been abandoned and abused but to also provide the therapeutic intervention to address the physical and psychological harm they have suffered.”

Minister Hanna says given the diversity of our youth population, it is clear that the Government will not only have to rethink how they plan, develop and implement programmes geared towards youth development but there will also have to be a ‘resetting’ of the mind and of the way in which we treat each other.

The Stakeholders Consultation was sponsored by Panos Caribbean in collaboration with the World Learning Organization and USAID and was attended by members of the Ministry and the Inter-Ministerial Working Group on Children, Panos Caribbean, UNICEF, the Child Development Agency, OCR,Ministry of Health, Ministry of  Justice, Ministry of National Security, Ministry of Education, Board-chair of the Maxfield Children’s Home, JFLAG, Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network.

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Anti-gay Ethiopia eases away from new crackdown

Flag of Ethiopia

Flag of Ethiopia

Ethiopia has backed away from the latest plans for intensifying anti-gay repression there.

Plans for a large anti-gay rally in the capital on April 26 have been cancelled, the Associated Press reports.

In addition, government spokesman Redwan Hussein said plans have been dropped for adding homosexual activity to a list of crimes ineligible for a presidential pardon.

But the country remains hostile to LGBT people.  As one activist noted, “Although the government cancelled the rally and dropped the bill, there is still a lot of government surveillance and violence on the LGBT community. … People are very scared even to socialize.”

Dereje Negash, chairman of a religious group affiliated with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, said the planned rally was cancelled after people inside the church asked the government to prevent it, AP reported.

Homosexual activity in Ethiopia is punishable with a prison sentence of one year or up to 10 years for sex workers or people who abuse a position of authority to encourage another into same-sex acts, according to ILGA’s 2013 report on anti-homosexuality laws worldwide.

Anti-gay organizations in Ethiopia, including the Ethiopian Inter-Religious Council Against Homosexuality (EICAH) and United for Life Ethiopia, last year proposed passage of a law that would impose the death penalty for homosexuals.

Redwan Hussein said  the government does not support anti-gay movements in Ethiopia.

“It is not a serious crime. Plus, it is not as widespread as some people suggest. It is already a crime and a certain amount of punishment is prescribed for it. The government thinks the current jail term in enough,” he said.

The AP also reported unsupported claims by church group chairman Dereje Negash about alleged threats by LGBT people, an increase in “gay tourism” to Ethiopia, and “hundreds of people” in Ethiopia turning away from homosexuality:

“Currently I’m being threatened by the gay community for organizing the rally. Despite the threat, I will continue to pursue my struggle against the gay community. I believe I have been given a task by God to do this. I will do this even if it means life or death,” Dereje said.

Dereje said his group is not seeking the harassment of gay people, but he wants Ethiopian law to increase punishments for gay sex. Dereje said that gay sex tourism is increasing in the country and he wants it stopped.

“We believe the gay people should be supported to get out of their bad life. We have helped hundreds of people to abandon gay acts so far,” he said.

 

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African LGBTI activists unite at Nairobi conference

Pan Africa ILGA conference site, March 2014.

Pan Africa ILGA conference site, March 2014. (Colin Stewart photo)

About 150 activists from throughout Africa  revived the continent’s LGBTI rights organization last month at a conference held in Nairobi, Kenya.

The conference of Pan Africa ILGA (PAI) provided a regional platform to discuss issues affecting LGBTI people in Africa, develop strategies to combat violence and discrimination of people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, adopt a constitution for PAI and elect officers who will carry the work forward.

Delegates at the Pan Africa ILGA conference in Kenya in March 2014. (Colin Stewart photo)

Delegates at the Pan Africa ILGA conference in Kenya in March 2014. (Colin Stewart photo)

“The conference brought together Africa’s diversity in race, gender, regional representation, language and politics, resulting in rich conversations on how to move Africa’s sexual orientation and gender identity politics forward,” organizers said.

Conference sessions were conducted in English and in French, with simultaneous translation.

Workshops during the conference focused on topics including LGBTIQ refugees, media strategies in the quest for recognition of human rights, organizing on behalf of LGBTI people in rural communities, online advocacy and emotional support for LGBT people in the Middle East and North Africa, and the needs of French-speaking activists.

The Rev. Jide Macaulay, founder of the House of Rainbow Fellowship in Nigeria. (Colin Stewart photo)

The Rev. Jide Macaulay, founder of the House of Rainbow Fellowship in Nigeria. (Colin Stewart photo)

Many Christian and Muslim activists at the conference represented  religious organizations that welcome LGBTI people. An interfaith pre-conference focused on the work of the House of Rainbows in Nigeria, Ghana and London and of the new Global Interfaith Network (GIN), which held its first conference in South Africa in January. Workshops were also scheduled on “Islam: With or Against LGBTI,” Islamic fundamentalism, and “Reconciling  Spirituality with Sexuality,” including activist faith leaders from Algeria, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Security was a concern, especially since some Kenya politicians had recently proposed that the country follow Uganda and Nigeria in passing harsh new anti-homosexuality laws, but conference organizers reported no  security breaches. For the conference’s security plan, they expressed appreciation  to UHAI  (the East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative) and to the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK), as well as to the local host organization, Ishtar MSM, which provides HIV/AIDS outreach to men who have sex with men.

The following PAI board members were elected:

Co Chair (Male): Yahia Zaidi (Algeria, Belgium)
Co Chair (Female): Monica Tabengwa (Botswana, Kenya)
Co Chair Alternate (Male): Richard Lusimbo (Uganda)
Co Chair Alternate (Female): Akudo Oguaghamba (Nigeria)
Secretary: Anthony Oluoch (Kenya)
Treasurer: Caine Youngman (Botswana)
Supporting Board Member: Kholoud Bidak (Egypt)
Supporting Board Member: Bachir Ali Toudert (Algeria, South Africa)
Supporting Board Member: Samuel Opio (Uganda)
Supporting Board Member: Jabulani Pereira (South Africa)

For more information, see a statement about the PAI conference on the website of ILGA (the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association).

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India Supreme Court opens a path toward LGBTI rights

BuzzFeed reports:

Supreme Court of India

Supreme Court of India

A victory for transgender rights in India’s Supreme Court on Tuesday [April 15] may have rescued the country’s LGBTI movement from the brink of legal disaster.

For the past 12 years, the Indian LGBTI rights movement had pinned its hope to a challenge to the country’s colonial-era sodomy law, known as Section 377. In December, a two-judge panel of the Supreme Court dealt the effort a crushing defeat, overturning a ruling by the Delhi High Court that had found broad protections for LGBTI rights under the country’s constitution.

Tuesday’s decision, though, could flip the dynamic for lawyers trying to get the Supreme Court to reconsider the ruling in a petition now under consideration. Before Tuesday’s ruling, the Supreme Court basically would have to say that two of its judges committed a gross miscarriage of justice in order to overturn the sodomy law ruling, with very little foundation in Supreme Court jurisprudence. But with the new ruling on the table — which directly contradicted the sodomy ruling on several key points— it is instead being asked to reconcile two wildly divergent opinions of its own justices.

This doesn’t make the petition lawyers have filed in the sodomy law case a slam dunk for LGBTI advocates, but it is a lot easier to make their argument with two judges of the court on their side. And it arrives just in time to factor into the decision on whether to consider the petition at all.

After the court upheld the sodomy law in December, the Indian legal system left lawyers two last-ditch ways to get the ruling overturned. The first, what’s known as a review petition, was summarily dismissed by judges on January 28. Advocates are now awaiting to hear whether a new five-judge panel will consider the lawyers’ curative petition, a filing used to challenge violations of fundamental rights. The court is expected to announce this week or next whether it will consider arguments for a curative petition.

For more information, read the full article in BuzzFeed: “How A Trans Rights Ruling Could Save Gay Rights In India.”

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