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The 16th International conference on AIDS and STI’s in Africa ICASA 2011, jointly organized by the government of Ethiopia in conjunction with the society for AIDS in Africa and various institutional and community partners as well private sector, brought together over ten thousand delegates from around the world who from the 4th -8th December put their heads together, bringing to the table, their experiences, good practices and looked for a way forward, 30 years into the fight against the AIDS pandemic.

As per the tradition of ICASA, this year’s conference was divided broadly into three areas of focus, which included the scientific, Non-abstract driven sessions and the community programs. Themed around Own, Scale-up and sustain, the conference chair Dr.YigeremuAbebe from Ethiopia explained the conference was so designed to ensure international standards with excellent submissions from what the world is doing to respond to HIV in Africa. Also the choice of speakers and various facilitators also a reflected the organizer’s resolve to ensure high level of interaction during the conference.

This conference however started with a youth Pre-conference which was in a bid to better prepare young people for the main conference. It was hosted by Talent Youth Association (TAYA- Ethiopia) 1-3 December 2011 in Addis Ababa Ethiopia, at the Ghion hotel. This Pre meeting had over 250 delegates with over 80 of them from Ethiopia. The official opening was done by H.E AlemawMengistu, State Minister for the Ministry of Women and children and Youth affairs who called on young people to get involved in the ICASA proper and ensure that their voices are heard. Also present was Dr. YigeremuAbebe from the Clinton foundation who called on all African people to take ownership of the issues, be accountable and responsible for the response.

It is worth noting that the theme for this pre-conference was accountability and the breakout sessions were structured to achieve these goals. The pre-conference -ended with a declaration and call to action from the young people on sexual reproductive health and rights to be channeled to the main conference and this call to action highlighted amongst many other things the need to include young people more in the HIV/AIDS response process, getting the governments to commit, or better still be accountable for the money they receive for HIV/AIDS funding, and to proportionately distribute the funds to all the target populations not prioritizing one over the other. Also there was a call for the inclusion of young people living with HIV/AIDS and also children born with HIV in the whole response process and improve the quality of Youth friendly centers to better accommodate young people and also include them as staffed officials in such centers and also accommodate for the heterogeneity of their sexualities.

The conference proper that began on the 4th of December saw especially the rare presence of two former US presidents (Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) at the opening ceremony which was very contrary to public opinion as they asked why no single former African president or even the current ones were not invited, also asking ‘’why they were mourning more than the bereaved’’

This year’s ICASA had about 407 presentations which were covered in 150 plenary, parallel skill building and Non-abstract driven sessions and an additional 59 oral presentations, bringing the number to a total of 466 presentations. These abstracts and presentations covered and provided information on current research around the continent and best practices upheld by the different stake holders.

The uniqueness of this year’s ICASA is that it provided awards to the best abstracts presented by young investigators below the age of 35.this recognition was in a bid to encourage scientific research in Africa which is facing challenges at the moment and it is hoped that by so doing, many will be motivated to take upon themselves to further research on the Pandemic and possibly find a cure in the nearest future. It is now just rhetoric to repeat the fact that Africa is the most affected, especially Sub-Saharan Africa By this Pandemic.

Aside the sessions and very formal side of ICASA is the community village. It comprises of highly creative and focused programs ranging from the youth Pavilion to the community dialogue spaces. There is plenty here to digest as it shares plenty of best practices in Africa and most young people for ICASA hang out here since it gives them a unique opportunity of learning while having fun. The place is animated by an array of culturaldances ,performances and presentations from youth networks and other networks, distribution of condoms and t-shirts and other didactic materials which can be helpful in sensitization and general networking amongst ICASA participants.

This year’s ICASA registered a huge success all together as it brought together disabled persons, people living with HIV/AIDS, LGBTQI’s(Lesbian gays, bisexuals transgender, queer and intersex) who in one way or the other are contributing to the fight against HIV/AIDS all networking together.

The major outcome and the most applauded is that African leaders committed to engage in strategies that will ensure home grown responses to the AIDS pandemic, given the fact that at this crucial time of worldwide economic recession, they need to own , scale-up and sustain.
Overall, it is widely accepted that ICASA 2011 pointed the way forward to accomplishing the common vision of ‘zero new infections, zero discrimination, and Zero AIDS related deaths in Africa."

The major shortcoming from a personal point of view is that, too much money is spent organizing a meeting like ICASA.Sad to say but some people are getting enriched by the havoc this pandemic is causing. The resources allocated, from the printing of badges, conference papers,accommodation and other logistics was money that could have been channeled otherwise for better use maybe for some research or that remote place in the world where there is little or no response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
My recommendation will be to have fewer people attend the ICASA 2012 in South Africa and we should not make it a profit making forum with the commercialization that has engulfed the organization and running of ICASA.

Also as activist in the fight against HIV/AIDS it is very recommendable that we adopt healthy sexual practices as I could not help but notice some unscrupulous interactions amongst delegates especially the young people.

In conclusion I will like to thank the African Union and especially the Youth Division Headed By Dr. Raymonde Agoussou Advocates For Youth and UNFPA for giving me this unique learning opportunity to participate at ICASA and also to report via blogging on amplify/AU-YVC facebook pages for the duration of the conference.

By Abongwa Victor
International Youth Journalist
Cameroon.

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The 16th International conference on AIDS and STI’s in Africa ICASA 2011, jointly organized by the government of Ethiopia in conjunction with the society for AIDS in Africa (SAA) and various institutional and community partners as well as private sector, brings together over ten thousand delegates from around the world who in the course of the next few days will put their heads together, bringing to the table, their experiences, good practices and look for a way forward, 30 years into the fight against the AIDS pandemic.

As per the tradition of ICASA, this year’s conference has been divided broadly into three areas of focus, which include the scientific, Non-abstract driven sessions and the community programs. Themed around Own, Scale-up and sustain, the conference chair Dr.Yigeremu Abebe from Ethiopia explains the conference has been developed to ensure international standards with excellent submissions from what the world is doing to respond to HIV in Africa. Also the choice of speakers and various facilitators is also a reflection of the organizer’s resolve to ensure high level of interaction during the conference.

As I go through the Abstract book, I can’t help but to plead the Devil’s advocate to ask if it is feasible that in five days 407 presentations will be adequately covered in 150 plenary, parallel skill building and Non-abstract driven sessions talk less of the additional 59 oral presentations, bringing the number to a total of 466 presentations? Well we are left to find out. The good thing however about the abstracts and presentations is that they are expected to cover and will provide information on current research around the continent.
The uniqueness of this year’s ICASA is that it will provide awards to the best abstracts presented by young investigators below the age of 35.thsi recognition is in a bid to encourage scientific research in Africa which is facing challenges at the moment and it is hoped that by so doing, many will be motivated to take upon themselves to further research on the Pandemic and possible find a cure in the nearest future. It is worth noting that Africa is the most affected, especially Sub-Saharan Africa.

So here I am, at the millennium hall conference centre where the ICASA is being held, completely lost, and everyone is so busy going up and down as if on Broadway. I try really hard to figure out where I want to go…and what strikes me the most to visit is the community village. It comprises of highly creative and focused programs ranging from the youth Pavilion to the community dialogue spaces. There is plenty here for me to digest as it shares plenty of best practices in Africa.

So I visit from stand to stand, ranging from organizations working with the handicapped in the response to HIV/AIDS pandemic, those working with out of school youths, commercial sex workers, young people born with and living with HIV(YPLHIH) those working with young people and children orphaned by HIV, and others with girls that are victims of female genital mutilation and victims of rape and others more specifically on developing and advancing research in antiretroviral drugs .

It is a very rich blend of ideas and best practices and can’t help but to be absorbed in all of this. Did I mention there is also the people living with HIV (PLWHIV) and also that of Lesbian gay bisexual transgender, queer and intersex lounge? Provided in a bid for them to network and support each other.

Last but not least there is a rich display of the Ethiopian culture in the form of arts and craft many of which are from organizations that support PLWHIV, and of course there is warm tea to heat people up as Addis is particularly cold at this time of the year.

I make my way through one or two parallel sessions and I am quite impressed with what is going on, but what strikes me the most is the official opening ceremony which saw the presence of several dignitaries and one of the least expected…George W . Bush former president of the United States of America.

This ICASA is unique and we are hoping by the end of it, someone maybe from the Scientific area will tell us a ground breaking discovery that will alleviate the plight this Pandemic has caused since the first cases were discovered some 30 years ago. By the time the day officially closed, I was no longer MIA, at least I now know my way around and hopefully day two will be a better day. Stay tuned!

By Abongwa Victor
International Youth Journalist
Cameroon.

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On the second day of the International conference on STI’s and AIDS (ICASA ) Pre- conference December 2nd in Addis Ababa- Ethiopia, hosted by talent youth association TAYA, which is in a bid to prepare youths to have a head start as per the expectations of ICASA, young people attending have already familiarized themselves with the environment and people can now talk more freely, perhaps the reason why the session on Inclusion of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex(LGBTQI) Youth in HIV and Sesual reproductive Health and rights (SRHR() interventions is kept to be dealt with on this day.
The session is facilitated by Steve Letsike working with “OUT”, South Africa which is an organization dedicated to the promotion of the rights of LGBTQI’s and giving them the specific health services they require in an enabling environment. She begins the session with the projection of a good practice video which showed the evolution of demands for equal rights by the gay community of Pretoria and the subsequent evolution to the point when LGBTQI’S are legally recognized and can officialize their marriages in both churches and family affairs centers. See www.M2M.com and www.W2W.com for more on this organization.

I came to the realization that most people who have been working in the field of SRHR and even sexual diversities did not really understand some basic terminologies even down to the definitions of LGBTQI’s. So for the benefit of doubt, I will give the most basic of these definitions but for more clarity you can always check out the above mentioned websites. For the purpose and length of this article LGBTQI’S will be defined as:

L-Lesbian is a woman who has emotional, sexual, intellectual and romantic attraction towards another woman.
G-Gay is a man who shares emotional, sexual, intellectual and romantic attraction towards a man.
B-Bisexual is a man or woman who shares emotional, sexual, intellectual and romantic attraction towards both men and women.
T-Transgender is a man or woman who identifies differently from the gender assigned to She/he.
I-Intersex is someone who has an indeterminate sexual organ and needs a decision to be made.
Q-Queer is someone who is flexible and will rather not be labeled as either gay, lesbian, bisexual, or any such labels and lives his sexuality as she/he pleases.
The discussion focused around three basic questions.
1. How do we use our expertise where we come from to further integrate LGBTIQ’s?
2. What is your role in addressing this issue?
3. What are the resources required to better meet the needs of these people.
In Response to these questions, after much deliberation, participants came up with the following ideas.
For question one, the responses were as follows;

• Integration of LGBTQI issues in national and strategic health plans first by understanding the dynamics around LGBTQI issues.
• Conducting ample research to provide concrete statistics with which governments can be held to commit on the basis of the realities these statistics present. for example there are over 1 million known LGBTQI’s in Africa and 40% of them are HIV positive, this kind of information therefore will be very useful when pressure is mounted on governments to enable such people access health facilities without being discriminated upon on the basis of their sexual identities.
• Training of health practitioners and revising the develop manuals to enable them provide services meet the needs and aspirations of LGBTQIs
• Advocacy for their rights using other unexplored venues like new media.
• Engaging with policy makers.
• Revising awareness of the needs of these people and advocating for them to be met.

For the second question, the responses were as follows.

• Discourage discrimination and change existing attitudes
• Raise awareness of the rights and also responsibilities of these people through a human rights based approach for example International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) Sexual rights declaration handbook made in conjunction with the United Nations(UN) Universal Human Rights declaration.
• Values clarification
• Identifying key entry points and gate keepers (parliamentarians) working with those who are understanding to push the change at a higher level (PARLIAMENT)

As regards the last question, ideas gathered were;

• Creation of youth friendly and drop in centers for LGBTQIs
• Provision of commodities and resources which meet their specific needs and aspirations(lubricants, condoms suited for anal sex etc)
• Policy documents
• Finally removing punitive laws on LGBTQIs.

I will like to conclude this blog by mentioning that even though Ethiopia is host to the ICASA conference, with the ministry of health directly involved, things have not been made particularly easy for the LGBTQI community that will be attending this event. The public opinion is that ICASA is a gay conference and most people are bent on making the process a failure as much as they can. People are particularly skeptical about giving out the joints or meeting places out for fear of being condemned they are promoting gay activities and even the Pre-conference cocktail party was cancelled because the owner of the place declined giving it out when she found out those hiring it were for the ICASA program and a meeting of LGBTQI s in one of tthe hotels was cancelled on the same premise!

By Abongwa Victor
International Youth Journalist
Cameroon.

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The international conference on AIDS and STI’s in Africa ( ICASA), the long awaited and must attend international conference will bring together youth activists, health practitioners, government representatives, stake holders and every other person engaged in the fight against . To better prepare young people for the main conference, a Pre-conference for young people, hosted by Talent Youth Association (TAYA- Ethiopia) 1-3 December 2011 in Addis Ababa Ethiopia, kicked off December 1st at the Ghion hotel. This Pre meeting has over 250 delegates with over 80 of them from Ethiopia. The official opening was done by H.E Alemaw Mengistu, State Minister for the Ministry of Women and children and Youth affairs who called on young people to get involved in the ICASA proper and ensure that their voices are heard. Also present was Dr. Yigeremu Abebe from the Clinton foundation who called on all African people to take ownership of the issues, be accountable and responsible for the response.

Next stop we heard from Dr. Ademola Olajide who echoed Dr. Abebe’s view on accountability but urging young people on their part to lead the way. He said “we need to make the change we need and need to do it now” and to make that changeso, Dr. Akinyele Dairo on his part highlighted that UNFPA was particularly committed to young people and applauded UNFPA and other partners in their response which has yielded some results in terms of reduction in new infections. He said however that the target is the Zero infection point and to reach this young people must either Abstain from Sex completely until they are married and while they are stay faithful to their partners or CONDOMIZE! .The country representative for UNFPA Ted Chabien reiteritated the need for young people to be visible at the ICASA proper , taking the lead, facilitating sessions and making presentations.

Last but not the least speaker in the opening ceremony was Paddy Masembe from Africa Young Positives Association who bore witness to the challenges young people living with HIV/AIDS are facing on a day to day basis which included amongst others stigmatization and discrimination, lack of access to adequate health facilities and programs designed to meet the specific needs of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHIV) especially Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) living with HIV.

It is worth noting that the theme for this pre-conference is Accountability and the breakout sessions are structured to achieve these goals. I have taken the liberty of summarizing some of the sessions that held on this first day (DECEMBER 1st)that way my readers can get a idea of what went on.

The first session which focused on empowering young people for HIV prevention-challenges and opportunities done by Rick Olson from (UNICEF) explained that there are challenges in the effort to getting to the zero new infection target ,stating that there is increased teenage pregnancy and more young girls and women are getting HIV. He highlighted that this is coming mostly from the lack of information, condom use although increasing, figures still show young people disconnect between young people knowing where to get and actually use them and Voluntary counseling and testing in youth friendly centers, asking how friendly they really are. He made a call to young people to get involved in more condom programming particularly accountability and acceptability.

The other session I found particular interest in was that which focused on reaching unmet needs of sexual reproductive health and rights services of young people living with HIV.(YPLHIV). The speaker called for the status of children born with HIV to be normalized by society. He said so because current family planning does not target YPLHIV, including lack of information on contraception. He stated that YPLHIV needed more support in education and from stigma and discrimination meted upon them for a fault which is not theirs and that they are merely victims of circumstances. He concluded with a call for more work on advocacy, more access to Anti retroviral treatment (ART) more research on 15-19 year olds to be conducted and for the budget to be distributed more fairly amongst the different age groups.
Other sessions included documenting experiences, challenges and new approaches in the fight against HIV/AIDS amongst young people, another was the challenge of Youth in HIV/AIDS prevention policies, programs and fundraising.

Last but not the least was the session on Open societies and rights of PESSP (Gays and Lesbians) and sex workers and the speaker bore witness to the discrimination and stigma that sex workers suffer. The main issues highlighted were male and transgender sex workers and saw the need of services to sensitize thee sex worker and also for society and governments to treat them and their families equally. There was equally a call for support for rape victims especially male rape victims who are usually victimized more afterwards.

By Abongwa Victor
International Youth Journalist
Cameroon.

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Each week, I’ll be posting a list of the most news-worthy and/or inspirational, informative, well-written, thought-provoking, and/or unique posts of the week. While every post and every contributor is valuable to our community, these are the blogs that I feel are must-reads.

November 20- November 26

Stats this week: 14 posts by 11 writers

General Consensus On Trans Rights: Or Is There?- by Jordan

Inside this post:

Jordan details promising poll data about acceptance for equal rights for transgender people.

Occupy Philippine Congress- by leovlauzon

Inside this post:

For thirty days until December 14, 2011, young people and RH Advocates will go door-to-door to the offices of the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate of the Philippines to talk and engage with them in debate with the RH Bill.

Thank you to everyone who posted a blog this week! You are part of what makes this community great!

~ Samantha
Community Editor

—————————————–
My post this week: 
California Supreme Court rules that Prop 8 proponents have standing to appeal


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Parades are always fun but difficult to organize yet if you can go in any order then its altogether a different ball game. Parades generally signify the republic day for me because that is the day that you the population of the town out on the roads to see the three hour parade which makes you proud of your nationality but of recent some new parades have come into existence. People who until now were living in closets or couldn’t declare their sexual identities are now coming out during these parades to proudly declare who they are and what they believe in.

The fact that the society is not ready to accept/ recognize some sections like gays, lesbians, bisexuals, queer and transgender makes them utilize whatever opportunity that they can get with vengeance. And why shouldn’t they specially when the society loves acting as if they don’t exist or are our dirty secrets?

Personally, I believe that a person’s sexual identity is their private business and society should leave sexual and religious identities out of equation because it is difficult for one to come to terms with who they are and how that might be different for them when compared with other people and to top it off with pressure of being accepted by close ones, society and the world makes life all the more difficult. But on occasions like Gay Pride parades when people dress up to broadcast themselves, I never really know whether to applaud their guts or feel scared.

A normal question would be, why scared? Well, it takes me back in time to one of those events which one doesn’t want to witness, remember or have repeated in life. I have a friend. She had recently started exploring her identity as a lesbian because she was seriously attracted to women and until then she hadn’t had the guts to do anything about it because her family back home was very orthodox. For them this would be an impossibility and if they accepted that this was possible then the ultimate sin. Last gay parade made the lady want to celebrate her sexuality. She was warned but she dressed up for the occasion.

Covering a secret makes one more inquisitive so it is always suggested that do whatever you like but don’t cover your eyes in a Gay Parade specially if you don’t want to attract attention. But then youth and inexperience are not easy horses to harness. The lady dressed up like Cleopatra with painted eyes and a veil. Her beauty attracted the media like bees. She was all over the next day’s newspaper as the face of the parade. Her parents saw this and she right now has no home to return to because they still haven’t accepted her or her sexuality. She is living in a hostel (thank god, for communal colleges with government subsidised fees).
However, that was another time and space. Lets get a sneak preview of the Gay Pride Parade in Delhi which took place on 27th November, 2011. I hope no other people face similar mishaps like the one told here.

Special thanks to Aditya Bandyopadhyay for the video.

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Each week, I’ll be posting a list of the most news-worthy and/or inspirational, informative, well-written, thought-provoking, and/or unique posts of the week. While every post and every contributor is valuable to our community, these are the blogs that I feel are must-reads.

November 13 – November 19

Stats this week: 22 posts by 18 writers

Transgender Children In The News: A Round-Up- by Jordan

Inside this post:

From wanting to join the Girl Scouts in Colorado to a family winning an award in Maine for working to end transgender discrimination, Jordan reviews five recent stories about transgender youth.

Mindless Behavior…Nuf Sed- by KarachiYWOCLC

Inside this post:

Karachi looks at a new “boy band” called Mindless Behavior.

Not only are we pushing our little boys to grow up too fast with all this mindless behavior, we’re also teaching them that it’s ok to objectify women. This video’s got the same M.O as most other hip-hop videos.

“Personhood” and Birth Control Demystified- by ashthom

Inside this post:

Ashley explains how pregnancy and birth control work and why “personhood” bills understand neither and attempt to redefine both.

Thank you to everyone who posted a blog this week! You are part of what makes this community great!

~ Samantha
Community Editor

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 For me coming out is hard because of the "what ifs" the "what will happen" and most importantly the"what will my friends say". I’m an overweight 14 year old girl who is bi-sexual. I at times think i am and except it but other time i lie to myself and say i’m straight.  I like being popular and on a scale of o to 100(0 being the worst and 100 being most popular) for my freshman class i would say i’m a decent 83. I think that for people like me(overweight) it’s even harder to come out. An example is two types of girls at my school. One group of girls are lesbian and are fat. The other is a girl who came out but she is skinny and pretty. Everyone talks about the "fatty lesbos" but the other girl gets left alone no one talks shit about her. I feel like if i came out that would be me the addition to the "fatty lesbos" even though i’m bi. And one of my friends is also bi and she is skinny. I feel like if we were to both come out i would be the one who gets shit talked about and she would get nothing. I will admit i’m shallow if i was a guy i’d go out for the skinnier chick( by this i mean like not overweight) who’s blonde(just a prefrence) rather than the fat chick . And i care a lot about being popular i woun’t do anything to be popular but it matters to me. I know some of my friends would still be my friends even if i came out but the thing is they aren’t super popular . I hate being different i mean in the sense of having to deal with not only being overweight and getting made fun of behind my back but the fact that i would have to deal with girls giving me weird stares in the halls for being bi. People finding out is my biggest worry. With the pressures of being popular and having the right friends makes me scared to loose the reputation it took me 4 years to build. My rep is the " funny, nice, and okay looking rounder chick" i don’t mind being called okay looking it’s better than being called ugly. ANd if i was to come out and have the same friends it would be awkward and then i would have to add finding hot bi-sexual girls to my long list of things i look for at school. For me coming out is risky and scary. You never know who your real friends are but if your bi or les or gay or transgender and you tell one of your "friends" your secret and they aren’t a real friend it’s the end of the life you knew because your set into the LGBT stareotype.

Share This Article

Each week, I’ll be posting a list of the most news-worthy and/or inspirational, informative, well-written, thought-provoking, and/or unique posts of the week. While every post and every contributor is valuable to our community, these are the blogs that I feel are must-reads.

November 6- November 12

Stats this week: 13 posts by 11 writers

Proud to be Polish- by Jordan

Inside this post:

Jordan writes about the election of Anna Grodzka, Poland’s first transgender member of parliament.

Election Roundp: GREAT Night for Progressives- by AFY_Will

Inside this post:

Will summarizes some progressive victories from the recent election, including the election to town council of one of Advocates for Youth’s former youth activists, Lee Storrow.

What if Justin Bieber Has A Baby- by Media_Justice

Inside this post:

Bianca uses the scandal around Justin Bieber allegedly getting a young woman pregnant to discuss condom use, consent, and how society treats young mothers.

Thank you to everyone who posted a blog this week! You are part of what makes this community great!

~ Samantha
Community Editor

———————————————–
My post this week: 
Myths about Virginity in Glee’s "First Time"


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This past Tuesday was a momentous victory for the LGBT community in Houston. Among the victors were Mayor Annise Parker, Ellen Cohen, and the first gay man elected to city council, Mike Laster. There was, however, one loss that stood out. Houston Independent School District Board Member Manuel Rodriguez Jr had been in a tight race with challenger Ramiro Fonseca, when in a last minute attempt to put himself over the edge Rodriguez issued an anti-gay mailer to his constituents. The mailer highlighted Fonseca’s history of advocacy for the LGBT community and an endorsement given by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus. Rodriguez’s brochure went on to claim that Fronseca had "spent years advocating for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender rights … not kids." As if the brochure was not enough, Rodriguez had been quoted as referring to the LGBT community as "those people." Seeing as how just this past year Rodriguez had voted in favor of changing HISD’s non-discrimination policy to better protect LGBT students, many within the community were shocked. 

Rodriguez won his re-election by 24 votes. The community was outraged. This past Thursday leaders within the LGBT community of Houston rallied HISD Gay Straight Alliance students and spoke before the Board Members. Along with others, I had decided it was my duty as an LGBT youth leader to speak up against this horrendous act. 

This is my speech. 

My name is James Lee, I’m a student leader at the University of Houston. Though my name may not give it away, I’m Latino. Here in Texas, especially in Houston, our community has a strong and respected presence but it wasn’t always this way. There was a time when Latinos were the target of blatant bigotry, and as you heard from students earlier, there are still those who discriminate against us today.

Though I am Latino I also identify with a second community, the LGBT community. Just as the Latino community continues to defend itself from those who seek to demean or degrade us by referring to us as "those people", so too does the LGBT community.

Growing up, my mother and father always taught me to be respectful of others and when in a competition “focus on the issues.” Earlier this week, a brochure that singled out the LGBT community was distributed to voters. Since the incident occurred, there has been questioning as to why it was perceived as offensive.

Just as it would be inappropriate to list his Latino identity as a reason for voters not to support your opponent, so too would it be inappropriate to list their identity as a member of the LGBT community.

This incident is exactly the type of petty politics our city should avoid. I can see this kind of behavior happening on the school yard but to have it occur between those who seek to lead our schools, that is unacceptable.
We must lead by example, and if we expect our students to respect one another in a city as diverse as ours we must start from the top. Members, I implore you, help unite our communities by becoming the solution, not the problem.

Many have called for his resignation and Board Members have called for modifications to their ethics policies in order to ensure this kind of behavior is never allowed on the Board again. The fate of Manuel Rodriguez’s political future has yet to be determined.

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This morning, 13 U.S. Senators unveiled a new video for the “It Gets Better” project.  In the video, they discuss the struggles of friends and classmates who were unable to come out when they were in school as well as the efforts they are undertaking today in the Senate to protect LGBTQ youth from discrimination and bullying.  Check out the video and be sure to thank Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) for their efforts.

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Today, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted the first-ever UN resolution on the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons. Imagine that…LGBT individuals are finally considered worthy of human rights protections! Let’s ignore the fact that a longstanding principle of international human rights law is that human rights are universal and therefore apply to ALL individuals as an inalienable right of being human. Yes, that’s right, LGBT individuals were just not considered human beings, I guess.

Until today, that is. The UN resolution, offered by South Africa and approved on a vote of 23-19, does three things: 1) it expresses grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination perpetrated against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), 2) it calls for a study on violence and discrimination on the grounds of SOGI, and 3) it commits to convening a panel to discuss this study and the issue of discriminatory laws and practices as well as violence against LGBT individuals. For the first time EVER, LGBT individuals have an international mechanism to report discrimination and abuse, somewhere to turn to for assistance when their own governments refuse to acknowledge their existence or their inalienable human rights. This is a big deal, a really big deal, folks!

Reports to the Human Rights Commission that have come in just in the past year have documented executions of LGBT individuals via stonings, stabbings, and incinerations, as well as torture, gang rapes, so-called “corrective rapes,” and death threats. While the cases are numerous, one in particular just goes to show the extent of the torture and discrimination. It’s the case of Paula, a transgender woman in El Salvador, who was brutally attacked and shot by a group of men when she was leaving a nightclub. At the hospital, she was treated with disdain by health care providers because she was transgender and HIV-positive. Later, she was imprisoned in a male prison where she was put in a cell with gang members who raped her over 100 times, all the while prison officials turned a blind eye.

Of course, we know that many repressive governments have long denied the rights of LGBT citizens, including 76 countries that criminalize homosexuality and 5 countries that impose the death penalty on LGBT individuals. And many of those same countries not surprisingly voted against the UN resolution…see below for a full record of votes (only countries sitting on the Human Rights Council were eligible to vote, though any UN Member State can cosponsor a resolution). Changing these laws will not happen overnight, but this UN resolution will raise the stakes on LGBT rights and send an unequivocal message to repressive regimes that their discrimination will not be tolerated by the international community.

Voted FOR the UN Resolution: Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Hungary, Korea, Japan, Mauritius, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, and Uruguay.

Voted AGAINST the UN Resolution: Angola, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Djibouti, Gabon, Ghana, Jordan, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Moldova, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, and Uganda.

Abstained: Burkina Faso, China, Zambia

Absent: Kyrgyzstan, Libya (suspended from membership on the Council)

Cosponsored the Resolution (including non-HRC Members): Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Honduras, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, South Africa (original sponsor), Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Timor-Leste, UK, USA, and Uruguay.