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Top U.N. Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Meets with Leading LGBTQ Advocates

Post Submitted by HRC Global Deputy Director Jean Freedberg

On Monday, Vitit Muntarbhorn, the United Nations’ (U.N.) newly appointed Independent Expert on Protection against Violence and Discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, met with 30 leading LGBTQ advocates. He discussed the challenges and opportunities he faces in monitoring the rights of LGBTQ people around the world today. HRC was proud to co-host this event with its partners Outright Action International and Open Society Foundations.

This was Muntarbhorn’s first visit to the U.S. since he took office in September and it was his first chance to meet many of the advocates in the room. Later in the day, he delivered the keynote address at the HRC’s 2017 Corporate Equality Index (CEI) Awards, which honors the more than 500 leading employers that earned 100 percent on HRC’s 2017 CEI.*

The position of Independent Expert was created by the U.N. Human Rights Council last June, and then survived a succession of efforts to undo it at the U.N. in New York.  Mary Beth Maxwell, HRC’s Senior Vice President for Programs, Research and Training paid tribute to all those, including Outright and others in the room, who had fought so hard to secure the position, one of the most hotly debated at the U.N. to date.

In his remarks, Muntarbhorn stressed the independent nature of his position, and committed himself to being an objective voice, grounded in international law, on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. He reiterated the pillars that his work would rest on, including decriminalization and non-discrimination, destigmatization, status recognition, especially on the basis of gender identity, and socio-economic and cultural inclusion.

Most importantly, Muntarbhorn emphasized the role that advocates and allies can play in supporting his work. He addressed the business community specifically, and said they had a special role to play in leading on inclusion.

All the participants in the conversation were encouraged by Muntharbhorn’s vision, enthusiasm and commitment. They were also inspired by the ever-increasing global recognition of the rights and dignity of LGBTQ people and what this position signifies.

*The CEI evaluates corporate policies and practices regarding their LGBTQ employees.

Engaging Our Youngest Learners on National Kindergarten Day

Post submitted by Kimmie Fink, Welcoming Schools Consultant

Friday, April 21, marks National Kindergarten Day. Although the day recognizes Johann Friedrich Oberlin, the founder of kindergarten, it also honors our youngest explorers, scientists, artists and curious learners. As we celebrate kindergarteners today, we’d like to take the opportunity to share some ideas for teachers in engaging young children in conversations about diversity with Welcoming Schools books and lessons.

The lesson “Words That Hurt, Words That Heal” helps youngsters see themselves as allies in a caring community. Using the book One, the teacher facilitates a discussion about the importance of words and actions. Budding readers can role play as hothead color red, quiet color blue, and upstanders yellow, orange, green and purple.

“A Welcoming Classroom” is a lesson designed to look at what makes students feel welcome or not, an ideal activity for kindergarteners who are new to school themselves. After reading the book The New Girl…And Me, students respond to the prompts “I feel unwelcome when…” and “I feel welcome when,” and the teacher records their answers on chart paper.

For a simple activity to address gender stereotypes with young ones, try “We Are All Human Beings.” It’s important for children to identify all the things we have in common rather than the things that separate us. The book Whoever You Are serves as a springboard for student ideas about commonalities. Each child then has the opportunity to illustrate one of these human truths.

These are just a few examples of the many lessons and books at your disposal as a teacher of young students. Don’t underestimate the value of conversations about diversity at an early age. After all, everything we need to know, we really do learn in kindergarten.

HRC’s Welcoming Schools is the nation’s premier program dedicated to creating respectful and supportive elementary schools in embracing family diversity, creating LGBTQ-inclusive schools, preventing bias-based bullying, creating gender-expansive schools, and supporting transgender and non-binary students.

HRC Honors Day of Silence

Today, HRC honors Day of Silence, an annual event led by GLSEN to highlight the bullying and harassment LGBTQ youth face.

“GLSEN’s Day of Silence is a student-led national event organized in thousands of schools, bringing awareness to the silencing effects of anti-LGBTQ name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools,” according to GLSEN.org. “Students from middle school to college take a vow of silence in an effort to encourage schools and classmates to address the problem of anti-LGBTQ behavior by illustrating the silencing effect of bullying and harassment on LGBTQ students and those perceived to be LGBTQ.”

LGBTQ youth experience bullying at school more frequently than their non-LGBTQ peers. In January, HRC Foundation released the results of a groundbreaking post-election survey of more than 50,000 young people ages 13-18 revealing the deeply damaging fallout the November election has had on youth across the U.S.

The online survey, believed to be the largest ever of its kind, found that 70 percent of youth reported witnessing bullying or harassment since the beginning of the 2016 presidential campaign. Of these, 63 percent reported having witnessed harassment based on sexual orientation and 54 percent based on gender expression.

More than a quarter of LGBTQ youth had been personally bullied or harassed since the beginning of the 2016 campaign season, compared to 14 percent of non-LGBTQ youth. Among transgender youth, 37 percent reported being personally bullied or harassed.

HRC commends GLSEN and student leaders around the country for leading this vital day of action.  Learn more about Day of Silence here.

Now more than ever, LGBTQ youth need to know they have support.  You can become a better advocate by attending HRC’s Time to THRIVE conference, the nation’s premier convening for K-12 educators, professional counselors and other youth-serving professionals on LGBTQ youth safety, inclusion and well-being. The 2017 conference will be held April 28-30 in Washington, D.C., in partnership with the National Education Association and the American Counseling Association.  

HRC Foundation’s Welcoming Schools is the nation’s premier professional development program dedicated to creating respectful and supportive elementary schools by embracing family diversity, creating LGBTQ- and gender-inclusive schools, preventing bias-based bullying and supporting transgender and non-binary students. For more information, visit www.welcomingschools.org.

Grab the Tissues: Vicks Ad Featuring Transgender Mom Goes Viral in India

Post submitted by Fitret Yitayew, HRC Foundation Workplace Equality Assistant

A new ad from Vicks India featuring a transgender mother and her daughter has gone viral.

The heart touching ad tells the story of how Gauri Sawant, a transgender woman and activist, came to adopt Gayatri, a young girl whose birth mother died of AIDS.

In the ad, Gayatri narrates the daily rituals she has adopted with her new mummy, from hair massages to watching horror films together, and the struggles her mother faces as a transgender woman. She questions the unfair legal treatment of transgender people in India.    

“My Civics book says that everyone is entitled to basic rights” Gayatri says.

“Then why is my mom denied them?”

By the end of the ad, Gayatri says she is going to be a lawyer – for her mom.

Transgender women have a long history in India, featured in Hindu mythology and sought out for blessings. In 2014, India’s Supreme Court ruled that transgender people had equal rights under the law and granted legal status to individuals who identify as a third gender – neither male or female. Still, transgender people continue to face bias and discrimination in Indian society.

Discrimination and hate are often manifested from a fear of what people don’t know or understand. Visibility helps mitigate this fear, emphasizing our common humanity. This Vicks India ad connects us to the universal experiences of parental love and mother/daughter bonds fostering vital conversations necessary for positive change.

Vicks India is owned by the parent company, Proctor & Gamble, which has earned a perfect 100 score since 2014 on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, a national benchmarking tool on corporate policies and practices pertinent to LGBT employees, and is a founding member of HRC’s Global Business Coalition, a consortium of major global businesses committed to upholding workplace protections for LGBT employees – along with the rest of their workforce – everywhere that they do  business.

“We believe family and care are timeless – the definition of family will keep evolving in the modern world but Vicks believes that everyone deserves the ‘touch of care,’” Nitin Darbari, Marketing Director, Asia Vicks, told HRC.

In September, HRC hosted eight advocates working on transgender issues in India at our office in Washington, D.C. HRC also traveled to Hyderabad, India, in 2016 to kick off and participate in the city’s first summit focused on LGBTQ workplace inclusion.

Interested in making your workplace welcoming and inclusive for transgender and gender nonconforming employees? Check out the HRC Foundation’s “Transgender Inclusion in the Workplace: A Toolkit for Employers” at www.hrc.org/transtoolkit

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The World Cannot Ignore Gay Men Being Murdered, Put in Detention

Post submitted by Digital Strategist Brian McBride & Director of HRC Global Ty Cobb

It was a headline that seemed pulled from another century — but earlier this month, a Russian newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, reported that Chechen police have detained, beaten and tortured at least 100 gay men. The Russian LGBT Network claimed that as many as 20 men may have been killed in the attacks in Chechnya, a republic within Russia. More disturbingly, the paper reported that Chechen authorities were engaged in purging gay men by kidnapping and imprisoning them secretly in “detention style camps.”

Over the last few weeks, HRC has been vigilant in drawing the attention of world leaders to the developments in Chechnya. In advance of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent trip to Russia, HRC President Chad Griffin urged him “to make clear to your Russian counterparts that such lawless detentions, arrests, torture and murders are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.” That letter was also delivered to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and members of the White House National Security Council.

Haley, in a statement earlier this week, said she was “disturbed” by the reports.

Former Vice President Joe Biden issued a powerful statement urging people of conscience to speak out about the crimes, as has House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD).

Fifty other Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have also weighed in, joining the Congressional Equality Caucus in writing a letter to Secretary Tillerson urging him to speak out publicly and pressure the Russians to investigate and intervene.

Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), who recently met with HRC’s Global Innovative Advocacy Summit, led the letter along with Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI). U.N. human rights experts have also spoke out, from the newly-appointed U.N. LGBTQ rights expert Vitit Muntarbhorn to several UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights.

In addition, celebrities including Ariana Grande, Evan Rachel Wood, Trace Lysette, Don Cheadle, RuPaul, Nyle Dimarco, and Alyssa Milano have joined HRC in bringing attention to the issues by sharing our content through social media.

Sadly, according to ABC News, Chechen authorities have denied the arrests and torture, asserting that LGBTQ people in Chechnya don’t even exist in the republic. The Russian government has also refused to intervene, telling victims to “file official complaints and go to court,” which is highly unlikely to yield any success.

In a terrifying new report, CNN interviewed two men who experienced the violence first hand — even obtaining disturbing video showing their torture at the hands of Chechen police.

While these victims are lucky to have escaped with their lives, others continue to fear for theirs. Novaya Gazeta reporter Elena Milashina, who first broke the story of anti-gay actions by Chechnya authorities, has had to flee her home in Moscow due to death threats.

Despite a message of condemnation from the State Department, Secretary Tillerson made no public remarks on the matter during his recent visit to Moscow. HRC continues to ask our members to join in urging President Trump and Secretary Tillerson to speak out on this issue.

These horrific acts towards gay men cannot be ignored and the world community must not allow Russia to turn a blind eye toward Chechnya’s human rights abuses.

HRC is working closely with the Russian LGBT Network, the primary organization leading efforts to evacuate people in danger in Chechnya. They have set up a hotline to provide assistance to LGBTQ Chechens. They accept donations. More information can be found on their webpage.

Pictured above: In this photo taken Wednesday, April 19, 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, meets with Chechnya’s regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia. Putin met late Wednesday with Kadyrov, who told the president not to believe the “provocative” articles, reporting detentions and killings of gay men in Chechnya, which he says have no basis in fact. (Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

#AM_Equality Tipsheet: April 20, 2017

TOP TEXAS HOUSE DEM CALLS ON NFL AND NBA TO “STRONGLY OPPOSE” ANTI-TRANS BILLS: Texas Rep. Chris Turner, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, sent letters to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver asking them to speak out against anti-transgender bills raised in the state legislature that would prevent people from using facilities consistent with their gender identity. Turner writes in one letter, “Laudably, the NFL has taken a strong stance over the last several years in opposing similar discriminatory measures. In keeping with this stance, it seems natural you would also strongly oppose HB 2899.” The measure would prevent local communities and schools from protecting their transgender populations and students. In this way, it is strikingly similar to SB 6, another heinous anti-LGBTQ bill being considered by Texas legislators. More from The San Antonio Express-News and The Dallas Morning News.

Student-athletes in North Carolina speak out on NCAA decision to reward state with championship games despite continuing discrimination against LGBTQ people. More from ESPN.

Also in Texas: Two couples who bravely fought in the courts for their state to overturn its ban on marriage equality will be awarded $600,000 in fees and other costs. More from The Dallas Morning News.

WHIP HOYER CALLS ON U.S. TO ACT ON REPORTS OF MURDERS OF GAY MEN IN CHECHNYA: Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) took to Twitter to call on the United States to “not sit idly by” while police in the Russian republic of Chechnya detain and murder gay men.  The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta first confirmed the anti-gay actions being taken by authorities in Chechnya, reporting that  hundreds of gay men were being detained, and at least three killed, by Chechen police. HRC has called on President Trump and the U.S. State Department to help stop anti-LGBTQ atrocities in Russia. In a letter earlier this month to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last week, HRC President Chad Griffin urged him “to make clear to your Russian counterparts that such lawless detentions, arrests, torture and murders are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”

From Atlanta to San Francisco, hundreds of LGBTQ advocates held candlelight vigils and protest to draw attention to the anti-gay arrests, torture and and murders in Chechnya. More from The Georgia Voice and San Francisco Weekly.

THROWBACK THURSDAY — GEORGIA HOUSE GOP CANDIDATE HAS ANTI-LGBTQ HISTORY: Karen Handel, who will face HRC-endorsed Jon Ossoff in a runoff election for Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District seat, opposed marriage equality, civil unions, domestic partnership benefits and allowing same-sex couples to adopt during her 2010 gubernatorial campaign. In an interview with WXIA, she said that same-sex relationships a “are not what God intended,” and implied that same-sex parents were not as qualified as different-sex parents. More from The Advocate and Project Q Atlanta.

CONGRATULATIONS — TIME 100 FEATURES MAJOR LGBTQ ADVOCATES AND ALLIES: Gavin Grimm, Sarah Paulson, Ava DuVernay, Demi Lovato, RuPaul and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) are among the LGBTQ advocates and allies featured on this year’s TIME 100 Most Influential People list. Author and transgender rights advocate  Janet Mock writes this for TIME about Gavin: “So many are made to feel as if they should hide, pretend or perish. Gavin’s refusal to be treated unjustly is an enduring reminder that we will not be stayed.” More from TIME.

ANTI-TRANSGENDER DISCRIMINATION CASE APPEALED TO 6TH CIRCUIT COURT: After working at Harris Funeral Home for seven years, Aimee Stephens was fired in 2014 after informing her employer that she would be transitioning. Though the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that her termination was a result of unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII based on her gender identity, a federal court in Michigan later ruled that the funeral home was exempt from Title VII compliance under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Stephens has appealed the decision to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. More from Reuters.

NY GOV. CUOMO TO REQUIRE INSURANCE COMPANIES TO COVER FERTILITY TREATMENTS FOR ALL, REGARDLESS OF SEXUAL ORIENTATION: Governor Andrew Cuomo announced yesterday that health insurance companies are required to provide fertility treatment coverage to all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or marital status. Find the circular letter from Governor Cuomo here.

WHAT MAKES A HATE CRIME A HATE CRIME?: CNN takes a look at the recent uptick in reports of bias-motivated crime, and explores how the FBI defines ‘hate crimes’, and how it determines when an incident truly is motivated by hate. “In a hate crime, the victim is targeted because of his characteristics,” says HRC Government Affairs Director David Stacy. “These are bias-motivated crimes, and often they are much more violent than traditional crimes.” According to the Southern Poverty Law CEnter, LGBTQ people are targeted for violent hate-motivated crimes at higher rates than other marginalized groups. More from CNN.

NIGERIAN POLICE ARREST 53 PEOPLE ATTENDING A SAME-SEX WEDDING: The 53 people — mostly students — were arrested on April 15 for “conspiracy, unlawful assembly and belonging to a gang of unlawful society.” More from Premium Times.

STRANGER THINGS ACTRESS SHANNON PURSER COMES OUT AS BISEXUAL: Shannon Purser, known for playing the iconic character ‘Barb’ on the Netflix series Stranger Things, came out in a powerful post on Twitter, where she discussed coming out to her friends and family, and her Christian identity. More from USA Today.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GEORGE TAKEI: Today, openly gay actor and advocate George Takei, who is also a longtime HRC supporter, celebrates his birthday. Takei was honored at HRC’s second annual Time to THRIVE conference in 2015. He is an outspoken activist for the LGBTQ community, speaking out on Indiana’s discriminatory Religious Freedom Restoration Act and supporting The People’s Brief in preparation for the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality. 

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Vice explores the term “sexual fluidity”; Advocate reports on a study of anti-LGBTQ sentiment in Arabic media; Seattle Weekly talks to a local advocate who is interviewing the city’s LGBTQ immigrant community; NewNowNext features a powerful interview Ellen DeGeneres recently had NBA icon Magic Johnson about Johnson’s love for his openly gay son;

Have news? Send us your news and tips at AMEquality@hrc.org. Click here to subscribe to #AM_Equality and follow @HRC for all the latest news. Thanks for reading!