This Japanese Lesbian Couple Is Getting Married in 26 Countries to Prove a Good Point

A young Japanese couple, both students at Utsunomiya University, are crowdfunding their wedding online. But not just one wedding; the couple wants to travel around the world getting married in every single country where same-sex marriage is legal.

Misato Kawasaki, 21, and Mayu Otaki, 22,  cannot legally marry in their native country of Japan. So they’re hoping to challenge the Japanese government to change the law by getting married elsewhere — at least 26 times. For now, that’s the number of nations where same-sex marriage is legal. But the couple said on their fundraising page that they aim to marry everywhere they legally can.

“I want to show through our wedding photos that being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) is normal so that those who are troubled by their sexual status can harbor hope,” Kawasaki told the English-language Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun on Thursday.

The couple has been dating for a little over a year, and are collecting money for the trip on the Japanese crowdfunding platform Faavo. At press time, they had raised 334,000 Yen (about $3,000). According to Asahi Shimbun, they estimate it will take just over 4 million Yen (about $38,000) to cover the cost of the entire trip with transportation and lodging.

In exchange for funding, Kawasaki and Otaki are offering benefits ranging from attendance at some of the weddings and parties, to framed wedding photos and handwritten thank-you letters.

The couple plans to start the journey this March in Britain, with weddings in Europe, Africa, North America, and South America to follow into September. Kawasaki and Otaki will post about the weddings, and their travels, on an Instagram account they started for the project (@loveislove.japan).

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私たちは #同性婚 が認められた国で #ウェディングフォト を撮る #世界一周 の #旅 を計画しています。 . スーツののみさとです👔 . 2018年9月の始まりの日。 私とマユは別々の場所に。 9月は、お互いの時間を大切に、 それぞれ成長する月と決めました。 . 彼女はインドで、私は日本で🏃‍♂️ . ブログ等も書いていく予定なので是非読んでみてください! . ちなみに、 先日タイに行ってきました! 久々の海外、たくさんの刺激を受けて帰ってきました🇹🇭 とても楽しかった💁‍♂️ . てことで、 9月、走り抜けます🏃‍♀️🏃‍♂️🏃‍♀️🏃‍♂️ . カメラマン: @d.i.k.m.s.a スーツ: @aoyama__official ドレス: @watabewedding . . Hello! We are planning to go on a round trip journey to take #weddingphotos within countries which are recognized #samesexmarriage #26timeswedding . . Before starting our trip, we decided to share our wedding photos from Japan. . #LGBT#lgbtrights#lgbtyouth#weddingphotography #samesexcouple#lgbt💛💙💙🏳️‍🌈🇨🇴💗 #lgbt🌈 #lgbtlove#loveislove

A post shared by 26回結婚式💐26TimesWedding (@loveislove.japan) on

The pair also plan to visit Taiwan, they said on the fundraising page. As INTO reported in-depth from Taiwan in November, Taiwanese citizens voted to ban same-sex marriage in a surprise upset. But because such policies can’t be decided by public referendum in Taiwan, it’s unclear what the future holds for marriage rights there. In the meantime, the Taiwanese government is allowing same-sex couples to register as domestic partners.

If the marriage eventually ends, it could present a serious problem for the young couple — who would likely need to return to all 26 nations to file for divorce in each one.

Lambda Legal Files Third Social Security Suit For Surviving Spouses Who Couldn’t Legally Wed

Lambda Legal is taking aim at Social Security rules that block LGBTQ spouses from claiming survivor benefits because they weren’t able to legally wed before their partners died.

The latest federal lawsuit, filed on behalf of a 63-year-old gay man in U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, contends that the Social Security Administration (SSA) has set an impossible standard for many queer couples. That’s because the administration has a nine-month marriage requirement for social security survivor’s benefits, and some spouses died without ever being legally able to wed.

Thursday’s lawsuit is the third Lambda has hit SSA with over the nine-month rule. Two others are pending in Washington and Arizona.

The New Mexico case revolves around Albuquerque resident Anthony Gonzales, whose husband Mark Johnson succumbed to cancer just six months after the couple wed.

According to court documents, Gonzales and Johnson met and fell in love in 1998 and moved in together that December. Despite not being able to marry, they lived as spouses until Johnson died. They opened a joint checking account in January 1999, and the wrote each into their wills. Johnson designated Gonzales as his power of attorney.

The couple married on the first day they could as part of a mass wedding at Albuquerque’s Civic Plaza on August 27, 2013.

“We were together for 15 years, and we got married as soon as humanly possible, but I’m still barred from receiving the same benefits as other widowers, even though my husband worked hard and paid into the social security system with every paycheck,” Johnson said in a statement. “The government tells me we weren’t married for long enough, but we literally married the first day we could. How is that fair?”

Court documents note that Gonzales was with Johnson throughout his treatment for cancer, working from home and caring for him until he died on February 19, 2014.

“I held Mark’s hand as he took his last breath and died at 3:35 am,” Gonzales says in a court declaration.

Among other things, the suit argues that the denial violates the constitutional promise of equal protection under the law, disregards key Supreme Court marriage equality rulings, and constitutes sex discrimination.

“His exclusion from survivor’s benefits lacks even a rational basis,” the complaint reads. “Requiring Mr. Gonzales to have married Mr. Johnson when it was legally impossible for same-sex couples to do so in New Mexico is disconnected from any government interest.”

The complaint states that Gonzales has been denied $1,500 in monthly benefits for more than three-and-a-half years. It claims that an SSA judge urged Gonzales to challenge the rule.

“These benefits are as essential to the financial security of surviving same-sex spouses in their retirement years as they are to heterosexual surviving spouses,” said Lambda Legal Counsel Peter Renn in a statement. “But the government is holding their benefits hostage and imposing impossible-to-satisfy terms for their release.”

SSA declined to comment on the pending litigation.

In September, Lambda Legal hit SSA with a similar complaint on behalf of Washington resident Helen Thornton, whose partner of 27 years died in 2006, well before marriage equality took effect there in 2012.

Grindr’s Head of Communications Resigns: ‘I Refused to Compromise My Own Values’

Grindr may not be available for comment.

On Friday afternoon, Landen Zumwalt, Grindr’s head of communications, quit his position in an open letter to Grindr’s employees on Medium, saying that he’d no longer “compromise my own values” to work at the company.

“As an out and proud gay man madly in love with a man I don’t deserve, I refused to compromise my own values or professional integrity to defend a statement that goes against everything I am and everything I believe,” Zumwalt wrote on Medium. “While that resulted in my time at Grindr being cut short, I have absolutely no regrets. And neither should you.”

He continued by saying it has been a “privilege” to come to work every day.

“I am — and will continue to be — immensely proud of the work we were allowed to do during my time at Grindr,” he said. “I will never forget the heart-tugging messages, emails and more that we received from the queer community as a result of our Kindr initiative. Nor will I forget being a witness firsthand to the amazing activism work Grindr for Equality is doing globally or working alongside the award-winning reporting team at INTO.”

Zumwalt’s departure follows a week after INTO first reported that Grindr’s president Scott Chen posted on his public Facebook page that he agrees with those who “believe that marriage is a holy matrimony between a man and a woman.”

In a follow-up internal email, Chen said that the words he used “related to marriage between a man and a woman were meant to express my personal feelings about my own marriage to my wife – not to suggest that I am opposed to marriage equality.”

In a statement, Grindr said they “wish him the best in his future endeavors and appreciate his contributions to the company and the Grindr community.”

Same-Sex Marriage Isn’t Banned in Taiwan Just Yet. Here’s What Happens Now

What now?

That’s the question on the minds of millions after Taiwan voted down marriage equality on Saturday in a national referendum — a shocking, decisive result which seemingly threw the future of LGBTQ rights into chaos. Seventy percent of Taiwanese voters cast a ballot against same-sex unions in a first-of-its-kind plebiscite.

Because the vote is so novel, there are many questions left to be answered about the referendum and how it will be applied.

But as of today, here’s what you can expect.

Here’s What We Know Now

Three days before the referendum vote, lawmaker Jason Hsu explained that the vote is strictly nonbinding. In a Nov. 21 interview, he told INTO the referendum has a “symbolic meaning but … doesn’t really have actual binding effect.”

What separates Taiwan from the case of Proposition 8 is that the infamous 2008 vote immediately reversed the California Supreme Court’s historic ruling on marriage equality. Same-sex couples in the Golden State would have to wait another five years to marry, after the vote was overturned following a series of court decisions.

But in Taiwan, issues like same-sex marriage cannot be decided by public referendum.

Earlier this year, a spokesperson from the Justice Ministry referred to the plebiscite as offering “direction” for lawmakers when deciding what route to take on relationship recognition for same-sex couples. Rather than having the power to create legislation, the referendum is an informal poll that surveys the public mood.

On that front, the results don’t appear all that encouraging.

On Saturday, voters actually sounded off on five referenda in total: three against LGBTQ rights and two in favor of equality. One question concerned the creation of a separate law in the Civil Code that would “protect” the rights of same-sex couples, similar to domestic partnerships or civil unions.

Even while overwhelmingly rejecting full marriage equality, a significant majority of Taiwanese favored this proposal. More than 58 percent of voters were OK with a second category for LGBTQ partners.

If Hsu claimed the referendum requires lawmakers to respond within three months, the Legislative Yuan could elect to put forward a civil unions bill. But while such legislation could be headed down the pipeline before the 93-day deadline, it’s not likely to become law.

As one of the leading supporters of LGBTQ rights in the Legislative Yuan, Hsu said he would not support legislation he believes is tantamount to discrimination. In fact, should the lawmaking body introduce a bill that relegates same-sex couples to a lower form of relationship recognition, he claimed he would personally ensure the legislation does not move forward.

“We should not allow a special law to be sent to our committee for review,” he said. “I will do everything I can to tear down that committee. I will fucking block it because it’s not right.”

Here’s What We Don’t Know Yet

What’s an open question is whether Taiwan is required to put forward a bill by February or if they have the ability to ignore the referendum.

When INTO spoke to lawmaker Mei-Nu Yu last week, she suggested that the government is obligated to respond with legislation. Through the use of a translator, she claimed the “Executive Yuan is legally bound to propose a bill within three months and the Legislative Yuan has to draw up an amendment by the next session.”

Her response would suggest that lawmakers are obligated to put forward something in response to the vote — whether it’s a civil unions bill or a neutered version of marriage equality with an asterisk next to it.

But Hsu claimed legislators have the power to disregard the results by refusing to take action. He predicts that will be the case.

“My guess is the government might just simply not do anything,” he said. “To vote to create a separate law would trigger the anger in the LGBTQ community. For me, it’s discrimination.”

If the legislature punts on the issue, marriage equality will be the law of the land in six months’ time. May 29, 2019 marks two years since the Taiwan Constitutional Court ruled that laws preventing LGBTQ couples from marrying are unconstitutional. The verdict required lawmakers to draft a marriage bill before that date — or the ruling would automatically go into effect.

Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry Global, claimed the passage of a civil unions bill would likely conflict with that very decision.

“The constitution is the supreme law of the land,” he told INTO in a phone conversation the evening of the referendum vote. “They cannot enact something that is unconstitutional, and the constitutional court has already clarified what the constitution demands. That takes precedent.”

Should lawmakers manage to force through civil unions legislation, Taiwan could be headed for a situation similar to Bermuda. Its courts and federal government have spent the past year quarreling over LGBTQ rights.

After the Caribbean island first granted same-sex couples the right to marry in a 2017 ruling from the Bermuda Supreme Court, lawmakers overturned that decision just over six months later. In December, the country’s parliament passed the Domestic Partnerships Act, which appeared to relegate same-sex couples to a second-class status.

Although lawmakers claimed domestic partners would be granted the same rights as those afforded married couples, LGBTQ advocates viewed the legislation as a case of “separate but equal.”

They appealed the ruling and — to date — they have won twice.

After the Bermuda Supreme Court struck down the domestic partnerships bill in June, an appeals court upheld that decision last week. If the government doesn’t file a challenge with the Privy Council of the United Kingdom within 21 days, marriage equality will again become legal in Bermuda. That would make it the first territory to reverse its reversal of marriage equality.

Should the issue wind up back at Taiwan’s constitutional court, Wolfson claimed the bench must act as a check against the “temporary passions and prejudices” of voters.

“The court exists in order to enforce the constitution and every elected official takes an oath to support the constitution,” the longtime LGBTQ advocate said. “It is the constitution that protects each and every person in Taiwan.”

“Sometimes politicians get it wrong, sometimes even majorities get it wrong,” Wolfson continued. “A true constitutional democracy believes in general that voting is important, but also understands that not everything should get put up to a vote. In particular, the majority should not be able to strip away basic rights from a minority.”

Here’s What Happens Now

As the February deadline approaches, Taiwan’s government must clarify lingering questions about the scope of the referendum and what’s required of the legislature in responding to it.

Because the fact is, many people still have no idea what’s going on.

The referendum has caused mass confusion among Taiwan’s population of 23 million. Because nothing like this has ever happened before, even representatives with the Marriage Equality Coalition — which fought for legalization of same-sex unions—were unaware the referendum vote was merely advisory. They believed the plebiscite was the final word on the issue.

LGBTQ groups will now spend the next several months educating the public about what’s next for Taiwan and dispelling myths about the vote. But perhaps the most important work will be undoing the damage done by equality opponents.

To stir up opposition among a citizenry widely favorable to LGBTQ rights, the Happiness for the Next Generation Alliance relied on a campaign of misinformation to spread fear about what the freedom to marry would mean for Taiwan. They warned, for instance, that legalizing marriage equality would lead to an AIDS outbreak.

LGBTQ advocates say have seen these tactics before.

When Maine voted on same-sex marriage in 2009, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) fought equality through a strategy of divide and conquer — pitting African-Americans and the LGBTQ community against each other. According to a New York Times report, anti-LGBTQ groups recruited black people who opposed same-sex marriage to run their campaign.

The goal was to “provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots,” thus driving a wedge between these two important voting blocs.

Initially, it worked. Mainers rejected same-sex marriage 53 percent to 47 percent, then viewed as a major setback for LGBTQ rights.

But in 2012, voters in the Pine Tree State reversed their own decision by the exact same margin that they’d rejected equality just three years earlier. This time around, Maine approved same-sex unions by a six-point margin — making one of the first times a U.S. state voted in favor of the freedom to marry at the ballot box.

What changed? Wolfson said LGBTQ groups spent the intervening years embarking a substantial public education campaign.

“We spent three years knocking on doors talking to our neighbors, telling the stories of real gay people and our families — and how marriage and the exclusion for marriage harms our children,” he claimed.

Now that the referendum is over, Wolfson predicted Taiwan would head down a similar path as Maine and California — both of which legalized equality after banning it. By the time Prop. 8 was eventually overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013, a substantial majority of Californians already supported the freedom to marry.

As before, the journey forward will begin with dialogue.

“If we remind people that Taiwan has values of respecting all people and promoting social harmony, people will move,” he said. “Once people are getting married in Taiwan and people see that nothing bad happens — that in fact families are strengthened, that it’s good for society, good for children, and good for the economy — support will grow.”

Images via Getty

100,000 Rally in Support of Same-Sex Marriage in Taiwan’s Largest City

An estimated 100,000 people turned out in support of marriage equality at a concert held in the Taiwanese capital on Sunday.

Nearly a dozen musicians, lawmakers, and activists spoke in favor of allowing same-sex couples to wed ahead of a Nov. 24 vote on the island. Although organizers said during the early hours of the event that turnout was estimated at around 50,000, the crowd gathered along Ketagalan Boulevard in front of Taipei’s presidential palace continued to swell as the event stretched into the late evening.

Taiwanese singers Shuo Hsiao, A-Lin, Lee Teh-yun, Afalean Lu, and Li Deyun performed for the packed festival, as did a heavy metal band fronted by lawmaker Freddy Lim (known as “Chthonic”).  

Li, an openly LGBTQ singer known for the song “My World Without Loneliness,” discussed her own struggle with her sexuality.

“Often times, late at night during my youth, I wrote in my darkest diary that nothing could be done to make me believe that one day I may be able to find my own happiness,” she told the crowd. “I want to tell all my young LGBTQ friends that when you have that same feeling again, affirm to yourself that life is long and comes in all types. Everyone must have faith.”

“And when the dark night comes again, we can overcome it together,” Li added.

Taiwan is hoping to keep away the darkness on Saturday, when voters will head to the polls to cast their ballots in Asia’s first-ever nationwide plebiscite on same-sex marriage.

In five days’ time, the self-governing municipality will weigh in on five referendums related to LGBTQ rights: two in favor of marriage equality, two against same-sex unions, and one on whether LGBTQ-inclusive education should be taught in schools.

This weekend’s event was called “Two Goods and Three Bads.” The title was intended to educate concertgoers on how to correctly vote on a series of ballot measures they say were purposely intended to be confusing by opponents of equality. The “Three Bads” were put forward by the Coalition for the Happiness of Our Next Generation, a right-wing group backed by the U.S. -based National Organization for Marriage.

At one point during the rally, the crowd held up signs in unison pledging their support for referendums 14 and 15. When the signs were flipped around, red “X”s warned voters not to vote in favor of referendums 10, 11, and 12.

Although the island is known as one of Asia’s most socially progressive hubs, early polls aren’t clear on which way the contentious vote will go.

One survey conducted by the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation found that as many as three-quarters of citizens (or 77 percent) believe the Civil Code should limit marriage to one man and one woman. If passed, Referendum 10 would ban same-sex marriages outright, while referendum 12 would create a separate law in the Civil Code for LGBTQ couples similar to domestic partnerships.

But conversely, polling from last year showed the wide majority of Taiwanese support full equality for same-sex couples. More than seven in 10 people (71 percent) said they are in favor of the freedom to marry.

Xu Zhi-yun, the chairman of Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association, said the local community is extremely concerned about the contradictory polls. The LGBTQ advocate accused opponents of spreading “lies and rumors, intending to persecute LGBTQ people and defame gender equality education.”

“They use tactics that will that harm democracy and make LGBTQ people disappear from Taiwanese society,” Xu claimed. “Therefore, many LGBTQ people have suffered from physical and mental trauma.”

Despite the sea of rainbows blanketing bars, restaurants, and sidewalk cafes in the days leading up to the vote, the well-funded anti-LGBTQ campaign has been equally ubiquitous. They have spent an estimated $33 million on bus ads, billboards, and commercials warning, for instance, that the acceptance of LGBTQ rights will lead to very young children being taught about gay sex.

But supporters of same-sex marriage affirmed that equality is not the enemy but an “innate human right.”

“I am a business executive, and I am also a father,” said Tung Hsu-Tien, director of the board for Pegatron. “My two children and I are in favor of amending the civil law. I think this is an important asset that I can leave to my children in my lifetime and an important asset for human rights.”

Although polling is divided in Taiwan, marriage equality has been widely supported by local businesses and multinational corporations. Pegatron, which assembles iPhones, was one of at least 27 companies that put out a statement in support of LGBTQ rights prior to the referendum vote. Others included Airbnb, Google, Hewlett-Packard, IBM Corporation, and Microsoft.

In a Nov. 15 letter coordinated by the Human Rights Campaign, these entities claimed discrimination is bad for business and, thus, bad for Taiwan.

“Research has shown that a diverse workforce is more creative, productive, and competitive,” signatories claimed. “Policies that support and promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace also help businesses in Taiwan attract and retain the top talent we need to remain competitive in the global economy.”

But as turnout this weekend showed, Saturday’s vote isn’t merely about the bottom line. It’s about the future of Taiwan.

According to organizers, the crowd of 100,000 was one of the largest for any gathering in the capital city’s history—eclipsing the turnout for mayoral candidate rallies held the same day. It also far exceeded the turnout at the opposition campaign’s rallies held in Southern Taiwan, which reportedly numbered between 10,000 to 20,000 people.

For reference, this year’s similarly attended Pride event in Taipei was the island’s largest ever (as well as the largest pro-equality gathering in Asia’s history). More than 140,000 people came out to celebrate the LGBTQ community in late October.

No matter what happens on Saturday, rally speakers urged Taiwanese citizens to keep that positive momentum going.

“Don’t be afraid of your differences, please cherish your differences,” actress Ding Ning told the crowd, adding: “Please cherish yourselves. Facing discrimination is an opportunity to know our power; we can recognize the importance of our existence. […] So let’s change the world.”

LGBTQ Caravan Migrants Marry While Waiting for Asylum in Tijuana

Almost three years ago, Pedro Nehemias told his mother he was traveling from their rural town in Guatemala to the country’s capital to visit friends and buy some clothes. In reality, he was  going to meet a Honduran boy he met on Facebook.

At first, he had his doubts — he thought it was strange that someone he had never met had traveled all the way from San Pedro Sula, Honduras to meet him, but he went. And on Saturday, in Tijuana, Mexico, he married that same boy.

After having walked, hitchhiked and bussed nearly 2,500 miles from Guatemala as part of the migrant caravan that has drawn the ire of President Trump and became a focal point of the 2018 United States midterm elections, Pedro Nehemias and Erick Dubon were the first of eight couples to be married on Saturday. They were followed by two gay couples, three lesbian couples, two pairs of trans women and cis men, and one heterosexual couple.

One-by-one they stood on the steps of Enclave Caracol, an LGBTQ-friendly community space in central Tijuana serving as a shelter for LGBTQ members of the caravan, to say their “I Do’s,” as the crowd of journalists, Tijuana residents, and their travel companions cheered, threw rice and screamed, “kiss!”

The three officiants were from a Unitarian Universalist Church delegation who had traveled down to Tijuana from Northern California to bear witness at the border. The trip had been planned for months. But when they happened to pass by community space that morning to see how they could support the bunch, they were pleasantly caught off guard to learn they would be marrying 16  people.

“This is an act of justice,” said Hugo Cordoba, one of the pastors. “The dream of marrying is an illusion for most of them. We are helping them make this a reality. They are fleeing persecution, violence, a number of really heavy things. Queer migrants always get left aside, but they have a unique experience, and we want to honor that, even though many churches do not. Love doesn’t have a gender, sexual orientation, gender identity.”

“Love is about the connection and today is about love,” Cordoba told INTO.

Before the ceremony, Erick spoke with his aunt on FaceTime to tell her he would soon have a husband. “It’s really happening — Look!” he said as he spun around and showed her the altar adorned with white flowers, blue ribbons and a massive rainbow flag.

The ceremony started, and without breaking eye contact Pedro and Erick switched between smiles and laughter. But the smiles eventually gave way to tears, as Pedro pulled away after saying his vows to wipe his eyes and Erick blinked as he choked up. There was heaviness behind the joy.

Just the previous week, before they had even thought about a wedding, both Erick and Pedro said they feared losing each other at the border. They are hopeful that being married will prevent them from being forcibly separated in the U.S. — but even though they aren’t sure of how it works on the other side, for now they are happy just to have the option of legal marriage.

“We’ve made a new life for ourselves and I need him. I wake up and he’s there. I go to bed and I can say good night,” Pedro said. “He’s made life bearable and I really cannot imagine them sending one of us back or splitting us up.”

Their arrival in Tijuana presented a unique opportunity for the caravan couples. In 2015 the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that state bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional, although some states still banned the practice. In November 2017, same-sex marriage became legal in Baja California, where Tijuana is located.

Like the majority of the group, Pedro and Erick plan to apply for asylum in the United States, citing discrimination and assaults. Pedro said he had been kicked out of his home at 15 and forced into prostitution before reluctantly moving back in. Erick said they decided to leave after gang members attacked him and smashed his mouth with a rock, knocking out four of his teeth. Neither one of their immediate families accepts their sexual identity.

But their stories are not uncommon ones to hear from members of the LGBTQ community in Central America. Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, where the bulk of the migrants in the caravan, do not recognize same-sex marriage or legally recognize trans people based on their gender identity. The countries already have some of the highest rates of violence in the world, and the threats are particularly acute for members of the LGBTQ community.

Honduras, for instance, is one of the most dangerous countries for LGBTQ people. From 2012 to 2017, there were 196 murders of LGBTQ people in the country, according to Cattrachas, a Honduran lesbian rights organization. During that time in the U.S., there were 167 individual reports of anti-LGBTQ homicides—216 when including the Pulse nightclub shooting, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.

The U.S. has roughly 326 million people. Honduras has around nine million.

In El Salvador, “while engaged in law enforcement, members of the police and military have raped, beaten, stalked, arbitrarily searched, arbitrarily detained, extorted, intimidated, and threatened LGBTQ people,” the Georgetown Law Human Rights Institute found. At least 145 LGBTQ people have been killed in the country in the past three years, according to local Salvadoran organizations.

“I feel so happy for this opportunity. We’ve always wanted this, but in our country, you cannot,” said Erick. “The only thing in my mind when we were up there in front of everyone was, ‘I’m doing this with the person I love most in the world.’”

The group of 80 LGBTQ-identifying migrants were the first part of the caravan to reach Tijuana, arriving last Sunday. They initially stayed at a home in the upscale neighborhood of Playas de Tijuana rented on Airbnb by a group of lawyers, before being moved to the LGBTQ-friendly community center downtown. Amid concerns for the group’s safety, Saturday night they were split up and sent to different homes around the city.

These worries are not without precedent. When LGBTQ members of a previous caravan were waiting in Tijuana last May, their shelter was robbed and burned. And the worries do not stop at this side of the border — while in detention in May, Roxsana Hernandez, an HIV-positive 33-year-old transgender woman from Honduras, died after failing to receive proper medical attention.

If caravan members are taken into ICE custody after applying for asylum at the border, trans women will likely be sent to the same facility where Hernadez died. The Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico is the only ICE detention center with special housing just for trans women.

With the newlywed couples standing on the platform before him, Pastor Cordoba grabbed the microphone, smiled at the group, and said, “You all have faced violence, prejudice and discrimination. What you did here today was prophetic and brave. No one can take that away from you. Now kiss!”

Blue and white balloons then drifted up into the clouds and the crowds headed inside for Reggaeton, pasta and vanilla cake before they had to pack up their possessions and move yet again to avoid attacks and threats.

Unlike his partner, Pedro is nervous about telling any members of his family that he now has a husband. Although the couple lived in a one-room dirt floor home on Pedro’s parent’s property in rural Guatemala, his parents had told everyone that they were friends and roommates.

“At some point, I have to tell my family. Some way,” he said as he watched Erick adjust his top bun as he primped for photos. “But they are not going to like it. At all. I’m super anxious to tell them. I would love for it to be different, for them to be happy for me and this love, but it’s not going to be like that.”

“Now I celebrate with my new family.”

Photos by Fred Ramos

Taiwan Officially Set for Vote on Whether to Ban Marriage Equality

Taiwan will officially sound off on marriage equality after election officials certified signatures to get a national referendum on the November ballot.

On Tuesday, representatives with the Central Election Commission (CEC) confirmed to Reuters that petitions calling for a plebiscite vote on banning same-sex marriage were accepted. In August, INTO was the first to report that signature gatherers with the Happiness of the Next Generation Alliance, a conservative, anti-LGBTQ group, had crossed the necessary threshold of 280,000 signatures to put the issue up for public consideration.

After previous referendum campaigns were criticized for signing the names of dead people to petitions, election officials spent six weeks combing through the 700,000 signatures submitted to the commission.

Enough were deemed valid to allow the referendum to move forward.

In November, voters will now be tasked with weighing in on three different proposals put forward by petitioners. The first asks voters whether the Taiwanese should ban same-sex marriages under its Civil Code. Currently, Article 971 defines marriage as “an agreement… made by the male and the female parties in their own concord.”

The second would create a separate law offering some relationship recognition to same-sex couples, similar to domestic partnerships or civil unions. The last asks whether educators should teach LGBTQ-inclusive curricula in schools.

Happiness of the Next Generation Alliance claimed these issues impact “Taiwan’s moral principles and family values.”

In June 2017, Taiwan became the first Asian municipality to move toward full legal recognition after its constitutional court ruled that prohibitions on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. Although the decision did not serve to automatically legalize marriage equality, judges called the freedom to marry a “fundamental right” in an 11-page ruling.

But if voters reject marriage equality next month, Taiwan could also claim the dubious honor of being the first Asian locality to ban same-sex unions at the ballot box.

While election day is more than 44 days away, early indications suggest it’s unlikely Taiwanese citizens will choose to overturn the court’s marriage equality ruling. In a poll of over 200,000 people conducted by the Ministry of Justice in 2015, nearly 71 percent favored legalizing same-sex partnerships.

The almost three-quarters of Taiwanese who support marriage equality may also have the chance to sound off on their own plebiscite next month.

According to Taiwan News, LGBTQ advocates responded to the anti-equality campaign by putting forward their own referenda. The first would ask voters if they “agree” that same-sex marriages should be legalized as part of the Civil Code. The second would affirm that LGBTQ related topics should be taught under the Gender Equality Education Act.

Essentially, these referenda invert the conservative proposals in order to affirm the local queer and trans communities.

The Central Election Commission confirmed earlier this week that more than 438,000 people signed on to support the pro-LGBTQ campaign. Officials are expected to validate the final tally on Tuesday.

Image via Getty

Marek + Richard, Makers of Infamous ‘No Fats, No Fems’ Tee, Get Married on ‘Dancing Queen’

What the fuck is going in here on this day?

RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 5 and All Stars Season 2 star Alyssa Edwards has brought her signature brand of kooky one-liners and general wackiness to Netflix in her new series Dancing Queen. The show focuses more on her boy persona, Justin Johnson, and his dance studio Beyond Belief. But the show features plenty of Edwards as well.

In the first episode, Edwards officiates a wedding between Robbie Richard and Neil Marek, probably best known as the duo behind the gay-as-fuck clothing brand Marek + Richard. Imagine my surprise when I saw the two designers and their gay space cowboy-themed wedding were featured in the episode, especially since I hadn’t even thought about them since their “No Fats, No Fems” shirt caused a gay online firestorm.


Turns out the pair are two of Edwards’ favorite designers — they have a whole section on their site dedicated to Edwards-inspired merch.

But it was only two years ago that their “No Fats, No Fems” shirt was first called out by millennial news site Mic (disclosure: I wrote that piece).

After Mic’s piece ran, Marek + Richard said the “No Fats No Fems” shirt was “satire.”

A quick perusal of Marek + Richard’s site shows that they still sell the shirt, though they’ve changed it to be pink and glittery, as opposed to the serious design it took before.

That may be a step in the right direction, but there’s also the idea of … I don’t know … just not selling merch with this phrase on it at all? Also if you defended the original as satire, why change it?


Fatphobia and femmephobia are still, as always, huge issues — especially for those of us in the community who happen to be either or both. So, two years later, the designers may have dolled up the message in pink and glitter, but it’s still not a message worth spreading.


A Cuban President Came Out in Favor of Marriage Equality for First Time in Country’s History

Cuba’s president threw his weight behind the push to legalize same-sex unions in the Communist nation by voicing his support for marriage equality.

In an interview with teleSUR which aired Sunday night, newly-elected President Miguel Diaz-Canel claimed he is in favor of “marriage between people without any restrictions” ahead of a February referendum vote. Five months from now, Cubans will vote on proposed changes to the country’s constitution which would define marriage as a “union between two people.”

Diaz-Canel told the Venezuelan news network these updates to the Magna Carta, which was originally passed under Fidel Castro’s rule in 1976, are a necessary “part of eliminating any type of discrimination in society.”

“We’ve been going through a massive thought evolution and many taboos have been broken,” he said.

The president’s interview — his only sit-down since taking over for Communist Party leader Raul Castro in April — marks the first time a Cuban president has ever publicly backed marriage equality. After Raul’s brother, Fidel, came to power in the 1959 Cuban revolution, gay men were forced into labor camps. HIV/AIDS patients were quarantined in state-run sanitariums until 1993.

Although homosexuality was decriminalized in 1979, the elder Castro didn’t formally apologize for his administration’s treatment of LGBTQ people until a 2010 interview with La Jornada.

The draft constitution reflects a nation which has made some overtures toward embracing LGBTQ rights under the leadership of Mariela Castro. Castro, who is both head of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education and the niece of Fidel Castro, has called for the passage of a “legislative package” to usher in sweeping pro-LGBTQ reforms.

Cuba has already taken some steps toward that goal. In 2008, trans people were permitted to update their legal gender for the first time as the government announced a plan to offer free transition care on a “case-by-case basis.”

Five years later the Caribbean nation banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the workplace.

Further reforms have been vigorously opposed by conservative forces in Cuba, however.

Five churches urged the Cuban parliament — known as the National Assembly of People’s Power — to drop the proposed same-sex marriage amendment prior to next year’s national plebiscite. In a June letter, signatories argued “gender ideology” has “nothing whatsoever to do with our culture, our independence struggles nor with the historic leaders of the Revolution.”

The denominations reportedly included the Evangelical League and the Methodist Church of Cuba.

Although public polling on the issue has been scarce, Diaz-Canel claimed during this week’s interview that the issue will ultimately be up to Cubans to decide. “[T]he people will have the last word,” he told teleSUR.

In addition to legalizing same-sex marriage, the draft constitution includes a series of proposals which could dramatically reshape Cuban society. These include amendments extending property rights to citizens, setting term limits for presidents, and deemphasizing the centrality of Communism in the federal government.

The draft constitution was approved by the National Assembly in July.

Costa Rica Overturns Same-Sex Marriage Ban, Couples to Marry in 18 Months

A top court in Costa Rica paved the way for the recognition of same-sex unions this week by overturning the country’s decades-old marriage equality ban.

On Wednesday night, its Supreme Court ruled that the Costa Rica Family Code is “unconstitutional and discriminatory,” as the BBC originally reported. “A marriage is legally impossible… between persons of the same sex,” according to Article 14, Section 6 of the 1974 law.

But Magistrate Fernando Castillo clarified in a Wednesday press conference that the Costa Rica Supreme Court’s ruling does not directly strike down the Latin American country’s prohibition on same-sex marriages. It’s up to the Legislative Assembly to act.

Lawmakers will have 18 months to pass legislation legalizing marriage equality. If a bill is not enacted during that time, same-sex marriages will become legal.

Enrique Sanchez, an openly gay representative in the Citizen Action Party, is not hopeful that the lawmaking body will rise to the occasion. Fourteen of the 57 seats in the Legislative Assembly are controlled by evangelicals vehemently opposed to the national recognition of LGBTQ relationships.

Sanchez claimed a bill is “unlikely” given widespread religious opposition.

“What I see happening is that [the gay-marriage ban] will simply be declared unconstitutional in 18 months’ time,” he told the Agence France Presse.

The Supreme Court’s verdict was a response to a January ruling from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), which claimed that all countries under its jurisdiction should move to recognize same-sex marriages. This decision affected more than 20 nations which have yet to legalize marriage equality, including Bolivia, Chile, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru.

Both Bolivia and Paraguay have passed laws explicitly banning LGBTQ couples from tying the knot.

Despite its 44-year-old law prohibiting marriage equality, the Costa Rican government has long been on the front lines of pushing for the full recognition of same-sex unions. Former President Luis Guillermo Solis requested the IACHR take up the issue, while current leader Carlos Alvarado hailed this week’s court ruling.

“We continue to deploy actions that guarantee no person will face discrimination for their sexual orientation or gender identity, and that the state’s protection be given to all families under equal conditions,” Alvarado claimed on Twitter.

The current president, a former singer and leftist author, won election in April following a hotly contested race largely fought over LGBTQ issues.

Although LGBTQ advocates have hailed the Costa Rica Supreme Court’s ruling as long overdue, the decision has been surprisingly divisive. Attorney Marco Castillo, who authored one of the challenges to the marriage equality prohibition weighed by the bench, claimed the verdict “makes no sense.”

“Basically what it does is prolong [the wait] for the fulfillment of our rights,” Castillo told press, as the Tico Times first reported.

Others agreed the year-and-a-half wait is unnecessary at best.

“It’s a judicial aberration for a state entity to recognize that discrimination exists, and at the same time allow that discrimination to continue for 18 months more,” added Margarita Salas, president of Costa Rica’s Vamos political party.

INTO previously reported that anti-LGBTQ hate crimes surged during the 2018 presidential election, which saw evangelical Fabricio Alvarado come in second.