May 22, 2024

Discrimination

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People in a crowd waving Turkish flags and looking upward.When Yasemin Oz, a lesbian lawyer in Istanbul, heard President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claiming victory after a runoff election on Sunday, she said she feared for the future. In his speech, he declared “family is sacred for us” and insisted that L.G.B.T.Q. people would never “infiltrate” his governing party.

They were familiar themes, heard often throughout Mr. Erdogan’s campaign for re-election: He frequently attacked L.G.B.T.Q. people, referring to them as “deviants” and saying they were “spreading like the plague.” But Ms. Oz said she had hoped it was just electioneering to rally the president’s conservative base.

“I was already worried about what was to come for us,” said Ms. Oz, 49. But after the speech, she thought, “it will get harsher.”

The rights and freedoms of L.G.B.T.Q. citizens became a lightning-rod issue during this year’s election campaign. Mr. Erdogan, facing the greatest political threat of his two decades as the country’s dominant leader and seeking to woo conservatives, repeatedly attacked his opponents for supposedly supporting gay rights. The anti-Erdogan opposition mostly avoided the topic for fear of alienating some of its own voters.

That left many L.G.B.T.Q. people fearing that the discrimination they have long faced by the government and conservative parts of society could worsen — and feeling that no one in the country had their backs.

“People are scared and having dystopian thoughts like, ‘Are we going to be slashed or violently attacked in the middle of the street?’” said Ogulcan Yediveren, a coordinator at SPoD, an L.G.B.T.Q. advocacy group in Istanbul. “What will happen is that people will hide their identities, and that is bad enough.”

Turkey, a predominantly Muslim society with a secular state, does not criminalize homosexuality and has laws against discrimination. But in recent conversations, more than a dozen L.G.B.T.Q. people said they often struggled to find jobs, secure housing and get quality health care as well as to be accepted by their friends, relatives, neighbors and co-workers.

Supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan celebrating his victory in Istanbul on Sunday.
An aerial view of a mosque and an election poster for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Kayseri, Turkey in April. Turkey is a predominantly Muslim society with a secular state.

In recent years, they said, they have encountered new restrictions on their visibility in society. Universities have shut down L.G.B.T.Q. student clubs. And since 2014, the authorities have banned Pride parades in major cities, including in Istanbul, where crowds in the tens of thousands used to participate.

That tracks with Mr. Erdogan’s vision for Turkey.

Since the start of his national political career in 2003, he has increased his own power while promoting a conservative Muslim view of society. He insists that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, and encourages women to have three children to build the nation.

Rights advocates say that as Mr. Erdogan has gained power, his conservative outlook has filtered down, encouraging local authorities to restrict L.G.B.T.Q. activities and pushing the security forces to crack down on gay rights activism.

Anti-L.G.B.T.Q. rhetoric was more prominent during this election than in past cycles, even though there are no looming legal changes that would expand or limit rights. No political party is trying to legalize same-sex marriage or adoption, for example, or expand medical care for transgender youth.

Instead, Mr. Erdogan and his allies use the issue to galvanize conservatives.

“What they want to impose on society in terms of other values is full of hatred and violence toward us,” said Nazlican Dogan, 26, who is facing legal charges related to participation in pro-L.G.B.T.Q. protests at Bogazici University in Istanbul. “It was really ugly and it made us feel that we can’t exist in this country, like I should just leave.”

A group of people laughing around a table.
Bambi Ceren, right, and other members of a Pride week organizing committee gather in an apartment in Istanbul.
Nazlican Dogan, who is facing legal charges related to pro-L.G.B.T.Q. protests at a university, in Istanbul last week.

During his campaign, Mr. Erdogan characterized L.G.B.T.Q. people as a threat to society.

“If the concept of family is not strong, the destruction of the nation happens quickly,” he told young people during a televised meeting in early May. “L.G.B.T. is a poison injected into the institution of the family. It is not possible for us to accept that poison as a country whose people are 99 percent Muslim.”

In April, his interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, went even further, falsely claiming that gay rights would allow humans to marry animals.

SPoD, the advocacy group, asked parliamentary candidates during the campaign to sign a contract to protect L.G.B.T.Q. rights. Fifty-eight candidates signed, and 11 of them won seats in the 600-member legislature, said Mr. Yediveren, the coordinator.

His group has also tried to expand legal protections for L.G.B.T.Q. people.

While certain laws prohibit discrimination, they do not specifically mention sexual identity or orientation, he said. At the same time, the authorities often cite vague concepts like “general morals” and “public order” to act against activities they don’t like, such as Pride week events.

“This week is very important because we don’t have physical locations we can come together as a community to support each other,” said Bambi Ceren, 34, a member of a committee planning events for this year’s Pride week, which begins on June 19.

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A drag performer surrounded by a group of people.
A drag performer who uses the stage name Florence Konstantina Delight at a club in Istanbul.People socialize at Ziba, a gay-friendly bar in Istanbul.
Last year, the police prevented Pride events and arrested people who gathered to take part, committee members said.

SPoD runs a national hotline to field queries about sexual orientation, legal protections or how to access medical care or other services. The group can solve most issues related to services, Mr. Yediveren said, but most callers’ problems are social and emotional.

“People are feeling very lonely and isolated,” he said.

Transgender individuals struggle to find jobs, housing and proper medication and care. And gay men and lesbians are sometimes forced into heterosexual marriages and fear coming out to their families and co-workers.

Worrying about, “‘Will I be caught one day?’ causes a lot of stress for them,” Mr. Yediveren said.

And the threat of violence is real.

Some L.G.B.T.Q. people said they had been beaten by the security forces during protests or met with indifference from the police while being harassed on the street.

A survey last year by ILGA-Europe, a rights organization, ranked Turkey second-to-last out of 49 European countries on L.G.B.T.Q. rights. Another group, Transgender Europe, said that 62 transgender people had been killed in Turkey between 2008 and 2022.

Many L.G.B.T.Q. people fear that the demonization during the campaign will make that threat more acute.

A queer university student from Turkey’s Kurdish minority, who grew up in a smaller city with no significant L.G.B.T.Q. presence, said she feared that bad days were ahead.

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People spraying painting prints on a building wall.
Members of a Pride week organizing committee spraying graffiti in Istanbul.
Berat, an openly gay architecture student, works as a hairdresser in Istanbul.

People who would not normally commit violence might feel empowered to do so because the government had spread hatred for people like her, she said, claiming they were sick, dangerous or a threat to the family. She spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being attacked.

Despite the increased danger, many L.G.B.T.Q. people vowed to keep fighting for their rights and maintaining their visibility in society. To deal with the fear of random attacks, they plan to look out for each other more to ensure they are safe.

In Istanbul, a 25-year-old drag performer who goes by the stage name Florence Konstantina Delight and uses gender-neutral pronouns called the new attention unsettling.

“In the whole history of queer life in Turkey, we could never be that visible,” they said in an interview. “But because of the election, everyone was talking about us.”

They described growing up in Turkey as “full of abuse, full of denial, full of teachers ignoring your existence and what happened to you, like your pals bullying you.”

At age 16, Florence accepted their sexual identity, attended a Pride parade and set up a Facebook account with a fake name to contact L.G.B.T.Q. organizations and make friends, eventually stumbling upon someone at the same high school.

They later moved to Istanbul, where they perform weekly at a rare L.G.B.T.Q.-friendly bar.

Mr. Erdogan’s win on Sunday caused Florence despair.

“I stared into space for a while,” they said.

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A woman dancing in a bar.
A woman dancing at a lesbian bar in Istanbul in front of an image of Kemal Kılıcdaroglu, who lost to Mr. Erdogan in the presidential election.

An elderly African man in a suit looks off camera

Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, has signed into law the world’s harshest anti-LGBTQ+ bill, which allows the death penalty for homosexual acts.

The move immediately drew condemnation from many Ugandans as well as widespread international outrage. The UK government said it was appalled by the “deeply discriminatory” bill, which it said will “damage Uganda’s international reputation”.

US President Joe Biden decried the act as “shameful” and “tragic violation of universal human rights”. He said Washington was considering “sanctions and restriction of entry into the United States against anyone involved in serious human rights abuses” – a suggestion that Ugandan officials may face repercussions.

Early on Monday, the speaker of the Ugandan parliament, Anita Annet Among, released a statement on social media confirming Museveni had assented to the law first passed by MPs in March. It imposes the death penalty or life imprisonment for certain same-sex acts, up to 20 years in prison for “recruitment, promotion and funding” of same-sex “activities”, and anyone convicted of “attempted aggravated homosexuality” faces a 14-year sentence.

Described by the UN high commissioner for human rights, Volker Türk, as “shocking and discriminatory”, the bill was passed by all but two of 389 MPs on 21 March. Museveni had 30 days to either sign the legislation into law, return it to parliament for revisions or veto it. He sent it back to MPs in April, with a request for reconsideration. The bill would have still become law without the president’s assent if he returned it a second time.

Among tweeted on Monday morning: “The president … has assented to the Anti-Homosexuality Act. As the parliament of Uganda, we have answered the cries of our people. We have legislated to protect the sanctity of [the] family.

An African woman in an 18th-century white wool wig, lace collar and gown sits at a desk beside a flag
Uganda’s speaker, Anita Annet Among, addresses MPs as the anti-LGBTQ+ bill was passed. She urged the courts to begin enforcing the law immediately. Photograph: Abubaker Lubowa/Reuters

“We have stood strong to defend our culture and [the] aspirations of our people,” she said, thanking Museveni for his “steadfast action in the interest of Uganda”.

The speaker said MPs had withstood pressure from “bullies and doomsday conspiracy theorists” and called for courts to begin enforcing the new laws.

Martin Ssempa, one of the main backers of the bill, presented it as a victory against the US and Europe and suggested Uganda needed to push back against groups working to tackle HIV. He said: “The president has shown great courage to defy bullying of the Americans and Europeans. That bullying we shall not give you money. They intimidate and threaten you.”

In a joint statement, the heads of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, UN Aids and the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) reacted with “deep concern” and said progress on tackling Aids and HIV was “now in grave jeopardy”.

“The stigma and discrimination associated with the passage of the act has already led to reduced access to prevention as well as treatment services. Trust, confidentiality and stigma-free engagement are essential for anyone seeking health care,” said the statement.

“LGBTQI+ people in Uganda increasingly fear for their safety and security, and people are being discouraged from seeking vital health services for fear of attack, punishment and further marginalization,” added the statement, signed by Peter Sands, Winnie Byanyima and John Nkengasong.

There has been strong condemnation of Museveni. A statement from the UN read: “We are appalled that the draconian and discriminatory anti-gay bill is now law. It is a recipe for systematic violations of the rights of LGBT people and the wider population. It conflicts with the constitution and international treaties and requires urgent judicial review.”

Ashwanee Budoo-Scholtz, Africa deputy director for Human Rights Watch, said: “Museveni’s signing of the anti-homosexuality bill is a serious blow to the right to freedom of expression and association in Uganda, where instead of being restricted they ought to be strengthened.

“The law is discriminatory and is a step in the wrong direction for the protection of human rights for all people in the region.”

A 2014 anti-gay bill also prompted widespread international criticism and was later nullified by Uganda’s constitutional court on procedural grounds.

“President Museveni’s decision to sign the anti-homosexuality act 2023 into law is deeply concerning,” said Steven Kabuye, a human rights activist in Kampala. “This act violates basic human rights and sets a dangerous precedent for discrimination and persecution against the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda.

“As we have seen in the past, such laws can lead to increased violence, harassment and marginalisation of already vulnerable groups. It is important that we stand together in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda and around the world and fight against bigotry and hate.”

In February alone, 110 LGBTQ+ people in Uganda reported incidents including arrests, sexual violence, evictions and being forcibly stripped in public to the advocacy group Sexual Minorities Uganda (Smug). Transgender people were disproportionately affected, said the group.

“It is wishful thinking to assume a piece of bogus legislation will erase the existence of LGBTQI+ persons in Uganda!” tweeted Sarah Kasande, a Kampala-based lawyer and human rights activist.

Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni.
Ugandan president calls on Africa to ‘save the world from homosexuality’
Read more

“Queers are Ugandans, they belong to Uganda. No stupid law will ever change that!”

Edna Ninsiima, an editor and social critic, said: “We should all be concerned that our collective homophobia as a country has, once again, culminated in the state signing a permission slip for hate and dehumanization.”

On 17 April, a court in the eastern town of Jinja denied bail to six people working for healthcare organizations who had been charged with “forming part of a criminal sexual network”. Ugandan police confirmed that it conducted forced anal examinations on the six and tested them for HIV.

Museveni claimed in March that his government was attempting to resist western efforts to “normalize” what he called “deviations”.

“The western countries should stop wasting the time of humanity by trying to impose their practices on other people,” he said.

Activists plan to petition the court to nullify the discriminatory legislation, “Of course, we are going to march to court and contest this draconian law in every way possible,” said Kabuye.

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A series of black and white photos that depict the inside of a former department store.

Near the old perfume counters on the ground floor of the Hudson’s Bay department store in Winnipeg, Canada, a trade dripping with symbolism took place.

The 39th “governor” of Hudson’s Bay — North America’s oldest company and one of Canada’s most iconic — accepted from an Indigenous leader two beaver pelts and two elk hides in exchange for the building, the company’s onetime Canadian flagship.

The ceremony took place a year ago when Hudson’s Bay, the company once chartered to found the colony that became part of Canada, gave away its shuttered, 600,000-square-foot, six-floor downtown building to a group of First Nations. But what seemed like an act of reconciliation has become a subject of intense debate as the building’s worth and the cost of transforming it have become clearer: Was this a real gift or an empty one?

The gift of the building has focused attention on the evolving relationship between Hudson’s Bay and Indigenous people in Canada, as well as their central role in the history of a country founded on the fur trade between them and the company.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and others who attended the ceremony praised the transfer of the building as an act of reconciliation between Canada and its oppressed Indigenous population. But with the ceremony’s feel-good effects dissipating, the details of the deal are raising questions about economic fairness as Canada works to achieve reconciliation with its Indigenous communities.

ImageA series of black and white photos that depict the inside of a former department store.
A collection of original prints from the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives depicting the construction and inaugural year of its flagship department store in downtown Winnipeg.
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People standing inside a cafe.
The facade of the store, emblazoned with the Southern Chiefs’ Organization logo, seen through windows in a nearby cafe.
People standing inside a cafe.

The Indigenous owners aim to turn the sprawling structure into a multiuse building for their community that would include restaurants, a rooftop garden and a healing center incorporating Western and traditional medicine.

n 2019, commercial real estate appraisers said the building was worth nothing — or even less, because bringing it up to code alone would cost up to 111 million Canadian dollars ($8 million).

The company declined to comment for this article and provided a general statement that did not address details of the handover.

For generations — at least for customers who were not Indigenous — a visit downtown was incomplete without a stop inside the Bay’s ornate, neo-Classical monolith that spread across the shopping district’s choicest blocks.

So the transfer was a potent act, especially for people like Darian McKinney, 27, one of the two Indigenous architects entrusted with the building’s transformation. Like many other Indigenous Canadians, Mr. McKinney never went to the store, even though he grew up in Winnipeg.

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People standing near a map on a wall.
A map in the Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg depicts the voyage of The Nonsuch, the ship that launched the Hudson’s Bay Company. The Nonsuch sailed from England in 1668 to trade for furs in Hudson Bay.
People standing near a map on a wall.

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An exhibit with various artifacts inside a museum.
An exhibit in the Hudson’s Bay Company wing of Winnipeg’s Manitoba Museum. The company, established in 1670, grew the fur trade in what later became Canada using knowledge from Indigenous communities.
An exhibit with various artifacts inside a museum.

Besides being unable to afford to shop at the Bay’s, he also knew that Indigenous people had often been made to feel unwelcome; from his grandparents, he was aware of a not-too-distant past when they could not leave reserves to visit cities without a pass from a so-called Indian agent.

“If you could even afford to shop at the Bay,” he said, “you felt like you didn’t belong.”

In some parts of Canada, the pass system remained in effect through the 1940s.

“The environment in downtown Winnipeg was rooted in the exclusion of Indigenous people,” said Reanna Merasty, 27, the other Indigenous architect working on the building’s makeover.

The building’s new owners, the Southern Chiefs’ Organization, which represents 34 First Nations in Manitoba, envision turning it “into a space for economic and social reconciliation” for their community in Winnipeg, which is home to Canada’s largest urban Indigenous population.

The organization is still struggling to raise 20 million of the 130 million Canadian dollars that it says is needed to renovate the building.

For now, the mammoth structure sits mostly empty, with unclothed mannequins, a poster of Justin Bieber in Calvin Kleins, and dusty signage — “Store Closing. Everything must go” — recalling the department store’s final days.

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A large photograph of Justin Bieber, signs announcing a store closing and an escalator.
A photo of Justin Bieber on an empty floor of the closed 600,000-square-foot flagship store once owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company.
A large photograph of Justin Bieber, signs announcing a store closing and an escalator.

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A statue of a bison on a table near a set of revolving doors.
A bison statue was placed at the entrance of the store a year before the building’s transfer ceremony to Indigenous people.
A statue of a bison on a table near a set of revolving doors.

In the 20th century, Hudson’s Bay had reinvented itself from fur trader to modern retailer, opening department stores in downtown shopping areas. But nearly a century after its opening, the Bay’s Winnipeg store closed in 2020, the victim of the pandemic and online shopping.

By 2020, only two of the building’s six floors were still in use, and its main restaurant, the Paddlewheel, had closed years before. Hudson’s Bay, which had been seeking to get rid of the building for years, tried to give it to the University of Winnipeg, but the university declined because of repair and maintenance costs.

Owned since 2008 by Richard Baker, the American real estate magnate, Hudson’s Bay was stuck with a worthless structure that — designated a heritage building in 2019, against the company’s wishes — it could not tear down, but for which it was required to keep paying taxes.

But then the Southern Chiefs’ Organization approached Hudson’s Bay with an offer to take over the building and make it into a center for Indigenous life, said the organization’s head, Grand Chief Jerry Daniels.

“It’s quite appropriate, because it’s Indigenous people who really built Hudson’s Bay,” Mr. Daniels said. “And that’s the story that needs to be told, that we really built this country.”

Grand Chief Jerry Daniels of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization remembers coming to the store with his grandmother as a child.
A man looks out a window while resting one arm on the window sill.

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A bank of elevators and an upside-down sign that reads “It’s good to see you,.”
An upside-down welcome sign on an empty floor of the shuttered store.
A bank of elevators and an upside-down sign that reads “It’s good to see you,.”

But others were more critical of the deal and the motivation behind it.

“The fact that the Hudson’s Bay company exploited our community, took all the resources and money they could from our community, and then left this monstrosity of a problem in the downtown core, just abandoned it — it’s colonialism personified,’’ said Niigaan Sinclair, an assistant professor of native studies at the University of Manitoba who is a member of the Anishinaabe First Nations.

Inseparable from the European colonization of Canada, Hudson’s Bay was founded in 1670 to exploit the fur trade in Rupert’s Land, a territory equal to about a third of Canada today.

King Charles II had claimed the territory as England’s and given it to his cousin Prince Rupert, who became the company’s first head, or “governor.” Hudson’s Bay enjoyed exclusive rights to exploit and colonize the territory until the land was sold in 1870 to the newly created country of Canada.

With trading posts in remote parts of Canada, Hudson’s Bay relied on Indigenous trappers for the beaver pelts and other natural resources that made up the company’s business, but many Indigenous say their ancestors were insufficiently compensated.

Without the Indigenous, the company would have never flourished, relying as it did on Indigenous knowledge of their ancestral lands and existing relations among different Indigenous communities.

“Hudson’s Bay Company’s wealth was rooted in Indigenous lands, Indigenous labor, Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous governance,’’ said Adele Perry, a professor and expert on colonialism at the University of Manitoba.

In recent years, Ms. Perry said, Canada has been forced to “recognize that the core of Canada as an entity is a colonial project.’’

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A collection of items inside a room near a window.
Abandoned items and artwork depicting the fur trade in a storeroom of the store.
A collection of items inside a room near a window.

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Peeling yellow paint on a yellow and blue wall.
The retail behemoth had been battling declining sales for decades when it announced the store’s closing in early 2021.
Peeling yellow paint on a yellow and blue wall.

Mr. Daniels said his organization had secured 110 million Canadian dollars from government sources, including loans, grants and tax breaks, and was seeking funding for the remainder. He also said that he hoped that Hudson’s Bay would offer assistance.

Hudson’s Bay’s 39th “governor,” Mr. Baker, declined an interview request for this article, instead emailing a statement. “The Southern Chiefs’ Organization fully owns and operates the building, with oversight and control of all aspects of its future development,” he said, adding that the company supported the Indigenous organization’s vision for the building.

But there is deep skepticism in Winnipeg that its makeover can be completed without significantly more financial backing. Beside the University of Winnipeg, both the provincial utility, Manitoba Hydro, and the Winnipeg Art Gallery had also rejected, as too costly, taking over the building.

Hudson’s Bay jumped at the chance to get rid of a building “that was worth nothing in the first place,” and the government is not supporting the building’s costly conversion “with enough money to actually do it right,” said Wins Bridgman, a Winnipeg-based architect who has worked with Indigenous groups, including the Southern Chiefs.

“Then we wonder why it somehow doesn’t work,” he said.

“Beware of what people give you and why they give it to you.”