Pressure Mounts on Sri Lanka to Remove Anti-LGBTQ Laws as Part of E.U. Trade Deal

Efforts to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity in Sri Lanka, an island state off the southern coast of India, appear to be gaining steam as the country negotiates a preferential trade deal with the European Union (E.U.). Sri Lanka is one of 72 countries around the world that criminalize same-sex acts.

Signing this kind of trade agreement with the E.U. generally requires compliance with certain human rights conditions, such as removing laws that discriminate against LGBTQ people. However, Sri Lankan LGBTQ activists are concerned that the E.U. has waived this requirement following objections by the Sri Lankan government.  

All Out published a petition from activist Rosanna Flamer-Caldera calling on the European Parliament, which is debating the issue, to insist that Sri Lanka scrap anti-LGBTQ laws before the trade deal is signed. Flamer-Caldera is the head of Sri Lanka’s pioneering LGBTQ rights organization, Equal Ground, which she founded in 2004. In 2016, she participated in HRC’s inaugural Global Innovative Advocacy Summit, which brought together 26 established and emerging advocates for the exchange of ideas and practices for advancing LGBTQ equality.  

The petition, which was published on Monday, had collected 35,000 signatures.

In an email to HRC Global, Flamer-Caldera stated, “LGBTQ rights have been systematically violated for 134 years in my country. The stance of the E.U. that the documented breaches of LGBTQ people’s human rights in Sri Lanka do not constitute a serious failure to observe international human rights standards is disturbing. Don’t our lives matter?  Don’t we have the right to live as full citizens of this country?”

There are three specific discriminatory laws against the LGBTQ community in Sri Lanka. Section 365 (against the order of nature) criminalizes same-sex activity by up to 10 years imprisonment, Section 365 A (gross indecency) can put people convicted of same-sex acts behind bars for two to 20 years, and Section 399 is used by police to harass transgender and gender non-conforming people on grounds of impersonation. While these laws are applied infrequently, they nevertheless undermine the fundamental human rights and dignity of LGBTQ Sri Lankans and give carte blanche to authorities to violate the rights of LGBTQ individuals with impunity.

Activists in Sri Lanka have also faced other challenges in recent years. The 12th Colombo Pride event in 2016 received online threats from radical groups. They also faced difficulties in obtaining permission from Colombo municipality to celebrate an International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia event last year.

HRC is committed to advocating for the rights of LGBTQ people in Sri Lanka, elsewhere in South Asia and around the globe. HRC Global advocates for equality through advocacy, fellowships, partnerships and research. Read more about our work here.

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House Holds Hearing on So-Called “Religious Liberty” with Anti-LGBTQ Witnesses

Only eight weeks into the 115th Congress, House Republicans are already pushing for special licenses to discriminate against LGBTQ people under the guise of religion.

Yesterday, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice held a hearing on “the State of Religious Liberty in America.” (“Religious liberty” is often code for allowing people to pick and choose which laws they will follow in order to discriminate against LGBTQ people.) The Republican majority’s witnesses included staff members of three anti-LGBTQ organizations: Kim Colby, Director of the Christian Legal Society’s Center for Law and Religious Freedom; Hannah Smith, Senior Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty; and Casey Mattox, Senior Counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom’s Center for Academic Freedom. The Democratic minority’s lone witness was Rabbi David Saperstein, former Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and former Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.

From the beginning of the hearing, it was clear that the Republicans and their witnesses would be using this hearing as an opportunity to, among other things, push for and defend policies that give people a license to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals. Subcommittee Chairman Steve King (R-IA), along with Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Representatives Ron DeSantis (R-FL), Trent Franks (R-AZ), and Louie Gohmert (R-TX), pressed the witnesses and spoke about policies that would discriminate against minorities, including LGBTQ people. King specifically began his questioning of one of the Republican majority’s witnesses to spark a conversation in support of allowing businesses to use religion as an excuse to refuse service to LGBTQ people.

In their testimony and at the hearing, Republican witnesses called on Congress to pass the discriminatory First Amendment Defense Act and admonished restrictions on religious organizations from receiving public funds. They also called on President Trump to sign a “religious freedom’ executive order—which, if the recently leaked draft executive order is any indication, would target the LGBTQ community.

Thankfully, Subcommittee Ranking Member Steve Cohen (D-TN), along with Representatives Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Rabbi David Saperstein, questioned the constitutionality of the draft executive order. They also discussed how the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), while originally intended to protect the rights of minority religions, has been distorted to be used as a blank check to discriminate or to impose their religious beliefs on others. That is why several civil rights groups, including HRC, support amending RFRA to make clear that it was never meant to be a tool for discrimination.

The Democratic line of questions and Rabbi Saperstein’s responses illustrated a clear understanding that religious liberty can be protected while also prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ people. However, the Republican line of questions and the majority witnesses’ responses made clear that opponents of LGBTQ equality will continue to push their discriminatory agenda throughout the 115th Congress.

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NC Must Immediately Repeal HB2 or Lose NCAA Championship Games Through 2022, Warns Sports Association

Today, HRC and Equality NC blasted North Carolina Republican leadership’s reckless refusal to allow a vote to fully repeal HB2 — the deeply discriminatory law that continues to inflict profound damage on the state’s people, reputation, and economy. In a letter sent to state lawmakers today, the North Carolina Sports Association warned that the NCAA will pull all of the state’s championship game bids through 2022 if HB2 is not immediately repealed.

“It’s far past time for a clean repeal of HB2. Unless they act immediately, Senator Phil Berger and Speaker Tim Moore will be directly responsible for North Carolina losing out on six years of NCAA events and hundreds of millions of dollars,” said JoDee Winterhof, HRC Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs. “Make no mistake, the Republican leadership’s reckless and stubborn refusal to act is forcing the NCAA decision to take action and protect their athletes, employees, and fans. North Carolinians should stand up with Governor Roy Cooper and demand a swift vote to put HB2 in the dustbin of history where it belongs.”

“HB2 has cost North Carolina every single day with businesses and events leaving a state that has written discrimination into law,” said Equality NC Executive Director Chris Sgro. “We are now faced with the risk of losing NCAA championship games through 2022 because Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore will not allow a vote on a clean repeal bill. The economic damage already experienced because of HB2 is only the beginning, and the North Carolina legislature must stop the bleeding by immediately repealing HB2. Every day that passes with HB2 on the books will only cost the state exponentially more.”

In the letter, the North Carolina Sports Association warned lawmakers that the NCAA decision will cost the state at least another half a billion dollars in economic activity. In November 2016, Forbes estimated that the state had already lost hundreds of millions of dollars in business due to HB2.

The NCAA took a clear stand in September of last year against HB2 and moved all neutral-site 2016-2017 championship events out of the state due to the discriminatory law. When announcing that decision, the NCAA cited their commitment to an “inclusive atmosphere for all college athletes, coaches, administrators and fans.” The NCAA had also previously announced that North Carolina cities no longer qualify to host NCAA events because HB2 ripped away any local LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination laws and uniquely requires anti-transgender discrimination. Standing up for the safety of its employees, players, and fans, the Atlantic Coast Conference followed the NCAA lead by moving championship games out of North Carolina.

The NBA also moved its 2017 All-Star Game out of the state and to New Orleans, Louisiana — a city with explicit LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination protections. That decision came after repeated warnings the league would move the event if the law remained on the books.

In November, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory became the only incumbent governor from either party to lose on election day specifically because he championed and signed HB2 into law. North Carolina polling released by HRC and Equality NC found that HB2 was the number one issue leading to Governor Pat McCrory’s defeat — the only incumbent governor from either party to lose on election day. The HRC and Equality NC survey found that 62 percent of voters opposed HB2, while only 30 percent supported the law. HB2 was also listed as the leading reason to vote against McCrory — with 57 percent citing the bill, 17 points above any other issue.

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Tennessee Senate Committee Advances Anti-LGBTQ Proposal Promoting Taxpayer-Funded Discrimination

Today, HRC strongly condemned a Tennessee Senate Commerce and Labor Committee vote to advance SB 127 — legislation promoting taxpayer-funded discrimination against LGBTQ Tennesseans and their families. The discriminatory proposal would prohibit state agencies and municipalities from requiring businesses, organizations, contractors, and grantees, to not have policies that discriminate against LGBTQ people.

“This bill is a thinly veiled legislative assault on LGBTQ Tennesseans and their families,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “Taxpayer funds should never be used to discriminate. This proposal would forbid crucially important LGBTQ non-discrimination protections from being implemented by state and local government agencies. The Tennessee Senate should reject this shameful, discriminatory overreach of power.”

SB 127 states, “A government entity shall not take discriminatory action against a business entity on the basis of the internal policies of the business entity, including, but not limited to, personnel and employee benefit policies that are in compliance with state law.” The measure defines business entities so broadly that it would apply to for-profit entities, non-profit entities (both secular and religious), and in some circumstances, even individuals.   

Unlike 19 other states, Tennessee has no statewide non-discrimination protections in place for LGBTQ people. Under this measure, government agencies who choose to take action to protect LGBTQ people would be barred from doing so.

The discriminatory proposal would have far-reaching implications for the LGBTQ community, as well as any community not explicitly protected under state law. For example, under this proposal:

  • Cities could not refuse to give a grant to an organization operating emergency shelter services if they refuse to serve LGBTQ people.
  • Cities could not refuse to secure a bond to finance a hospital that has a policy of not recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples for visitation or medical decision making.
  • Cities could not choose to contract with a nursing home corporation that has a non-discrimination policy for sexual orientation and gender identity over one that doesn’t.
  • Cities could not refuse to enter into a cooperative agreement with a homeless shelter because they refuse to provide services for the elderly.
  • A state could not refuse to enter into a contract with a counseling center that refuses to treat veterans or youth in crisis.

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Alabama House Committee Advances Shameful Bill Allowing Taxpayer-Funded Anti-LGBTQ Discrimination

Today, HRC blasted the Alabama House Health Committee for putting the discriminatory H.B. 24 bill on the fast track to a vote by the full House of Representatives.

The bill, deceptively titled the “Child Placing Agency Inclusion Act,” would enshrine taxpayer-funded discrimination into Alabama law by allowing state-funded and licensed adoption and foster care agencies to reject prospective LGBTQ adoptive or foster parents based on the agency’s religious beliefs.

“Alabama’s child welfare system has over 5,000 children waiting to be placed with or adopted by a qualified, loving family, yet our state lawmakers appear more interested in focusing on discriminating against LGBTQ people than helping these young people to find permanent homes,” said Eva Kendrick, HRC Alabama state manager. “Offering adoption and foster care services to the public is not a religious-based activity, and this effort to discriminate using taxpayer dollars is an embarrassing and dangerous distraction from the real problems facing Alabama. HRC Alabama opposes this noxious bill and any attempt to make life more difficult for Alabama’s LGBTQ families and youth — especially children in out-of-home care due to crisis, abuse and neglect.”

H.B. 24 would allow state-licensed and funded child-placing agencies to disregard the best interest of children, and turn away qualified Alabamians seeking to care for a child in need — including LGBTQ couples, interfaith couples, single parents, married couples in which one prospective parent has previously been divorced, or other parents to whom the agency has a religious objection. The measure would even allow agencies to refuse to place foster children with members of their own extended families — a practice often considered to be in the best interest of the child. A qualified, loving LGBTQ grandparent, for example, could be deemed unsuitable under the proposed law.

Research consistently shows that LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the foster care system, as many have been rejected by their families of origin because of their LGBTQ status, and are especially vulnerable to discrimination and mistreatment while in foster care. H.B. 24 would only exacerbate the challenges faced by these young people.

In 2014, HRC launched Project One America, an initiative geared towards advancing social, institutional and legal equality in Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi. HRC Alabama continues to work to advance equality for LGBTQ Alabamians who have no statewide protections in housing, workplace, or public accommodations; or legal state recognition for their relationships and families. Through HRC Alabama, we are working toward a future of fairness every day—changing hearts, minds and laws toward achieving full equality.

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HRC Endorses the FAMILY Act

This week, the Human Rights Campaign joined a coalition of more than 40 national and state advocates to support important legislation that would establish the nation’s first-ever insurance program for paid family and medical leave helping to ensure that workers are able to take leave at times they need it most.

Even in today’s economy, American workers are too often forced to choose between the health and well-being of their families and financial stability, because taking paid leave is simply not an option. The FAMILY Act would provide great peace of mind to all families, including LGBTQ families, whether it’s a transgender father taking the time to be with his adopted child or an older lesbian seeking to care for her partner with cancer.

HRC applauds Representative DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Gillibrand (D-NY) for reintroducing the FAMILY Act, important legislation that will strengthen American families, and in turn its businesses.

The FAMILY Act ensures employees have access to 12 weeks of partial income if they take time off for their health, a serious health problem of a child, parent, spouse, or domestic partner, the birth or adoption of a child, and/or military caregiving and leave purposes.

LGBTQ families face higher rates of poverty than the overall public so having inclusive paid leave would help ensure our families will not have to risk their economic livelihood when they need to take time off to care for loved ones. Families that are headed by same-sex couples earn on average $15,000 less than a family headed by different-sex couples. Children who are raised by same-sex couples, compared to those who are raised by different-sex couples, are twice as likely to be in poverty. Paid leave will work to correct this problem by helping all families stay out of poverty and live healthy lives.

HRC is working along with the FAMILY Act’s sponsors to build support for the legislation and will keep you updated on its progress.

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Human Rights Campaign Slams Senate Confirmation of Jeff Sessions

Today, HRC condemned the confirmation of Sen. Jeff Sessions as United States Attorney General. Donald Trump’s choice of Jeff Sessions to lead the United States Department of Justice places civil rights and equality in jeopardy.

“It’s deeply disturbing that Jeff Sessions, who has demonstrated a clear animus against so many Americans — including the LGBTQ community, women and people of color — could be charged with running the very system of justice designed to protect them,” said Chad Griffin, President of the Human Rights Campaign. “The man now in charge of enforcing hate crimes protections doesn’t even think they should exist — or that LGBTQ people need them. The man now in charge of enforcing civil rights laws is a man who has a history of undermining the rights of African-American voters. Our message to Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions is this: we’re going to fight any attempt to roll back our rights with every resource that we have. We will not give one inch.”

For more, check out HRC’s report: Jeff Sessions: A History of Anti-LGBTQ Actions, which includes details about his extensitve history of anti-LGBTQ lawmaking, including:

Jeff Sessions has repeatedly supported laws that criminalize LGBTQ activity, using discriminatory laws to harrass LGBTQ Alabamans and blasting the Lawrence v. Texas decision, which finally ended the criminalization of same-sex relationships.

Jeff Sessions supported the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and believed it was “pretty effective.”

On marriage, Sessions co-sponsored and voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment, saying he would seek “again and again” to pass an amendment to the United States Constitution outlawing marriage equality in every state. Of the 2015 Obergefell ruling, Sessions said it  “goes beyond what I consider to be the realm of reality.”

Jeff Sessions has repeatedly opposed hate crimes protections for LGBTQ Americans — even attempting to insert a poison pill amendment to try to sink the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Jeff Sessions has actively attempted to block some of the most effective methods of preventing HIV and other STIs–specifically safer sex education.

Jeff Sessions once tried to terminate the National Endowment for the Arts based on its financial support for a lesbian filmmaker.

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