Anti-gender politics from May to August 2019

by Sexuality Policy Watch, 11 September 2019

We start this announcement recalling that, before May 2019, two major anti-gender events have taken place that are worth revisiting because of their potential subsequent ripple effects in Europe and Latin America:

The World Congress of Families The 2019 edition of the World Congress of Families was held in Verona (Italy) in the last week of March. The event was attended by Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, senior Hungarian officials and other well-known names of conservative religious and lay circles in Europe and the United States. The event faced protest, as Feminist and LGTBI marches took to the streets of Verona to contest the event’s agenda (see a compilation). It is also worth noting that the Vatican and members of the Five Star Movement – whose coalition with Salvini’s Lega Nord governs Italy – have publicly distanced themselves from the conference. Amongst the vastrecord of information published on Verona, we draw attention to the report published by openDemocracy on the large flow of money – more than 50 million euros – transferred between lay and religious conservatives in the United States and European far-right movements. Another Open Democracy report examines how WCF acts as a regular meeting point for strategies among highly conservative personalities, members of the European aristocracy and the Catholic hierarchy engaged in anti-gender and anti-abortion policies.

The Transatlantic Summit A week later, a similar event was organized in Colombia: the III Transatlantic Summit, promoted by the Political Network of Values. The meeting was a main stage for conservative Catholic and Evangelical activists, politicians and legislators from 30 countries – mainly from Latin America, Europe and the United States – to develop common strategies (see a compilation).


Organization of American States (OAS)

An excellent investigative report prepared by the Chilean organization CIPER (Centro de Investigación e Información Periodística), as part of the wider project Transnacionales de la Fe, analyzes how US-based conservative religious NGOs are undermining OAS procedures and human rights work. It also looks at their connections with and the role played by the Chilean politician José Antonio Kast, who presides over the Hemisphere Congress of Parliamentarians. The report also tracks connections between these trends and the dynamics that played out in the 2016 Colombian Peace Agreement Referendum and the 2018 Bolsonaro election in Brasil (read in Spanish).


SPW has prepared an assessment of the 180 days of sexual politics under the JM Bolsonaro (JMB) administration that comprises essays by Sonia Corrêa, Fábio Grotz, Rajnia de Vito and Marco Aurélio Prado and an interview with Lena Lavinas (read here).

On July 10th, following his attendance in the March for Jesus in June – a first for a president in office – JMB announced during an Evangelical service in the Parliament he would appoint a “terrifically Evangelical” candidate for a seat on Brazil’s Supreme Court. The day before, he signed two decrees attenuating fiscal duties for churches.

In July, JMB announced he would shut down the Nacional Agency of Cinema (ANCINE) and, to justify this measure, he declared the agency had a history of investing in sexual movies that battled “family values”. He used as an example the movie Bruna Surfistinha, which is about the life of a call girl. The declaration received much criticism from various quarters. Feminist Antonia Pellegrino, who produced the movie, rebutted the declaration vigorously in an article published in Folha de São Paulo, entitled “Bolsonaro is afraid of women”.JMB did not shut ANCINE, but signed two executive decrees that totally alter agency managing structure in ways that will compromise film production in the country in respect to content and funding.

In the diplomatic arena, for the first time since the ’90s, Brazilian diplomacy took a radical stand against gender and sexual and reproductive rights. This happened at the 41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council. Diplomats received instructions to veto the term “gender” in various resolutions and suggested replacing it with “biological facts: man and woman”. They also proposed to insert “religious groups” as recognized promoters of women’s rights. In the Foreign Office memorandum prepared to support Brazil’s candidacy for the renewal of its membership at the Human Rights Council, there is no mention of gender, torture, poverty, right to health or LGBT rights, while the “strengthening of family ties” is greatly emphasized (see a compilation of articles and analyses).

Despite these regressive stances, Brazil remained in the Core Group and supported the renewal of the Independent Expert Mandate on SOGI. However, after the approval of the renewal, Brazil made an explanatory statement declaring that it interprets gender to mean the male and female sexes. This interpretation is in open contradiction with the Mandate’s definition in regards to gender identity (see a compilation). In August, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ernesto Araújo, was questioned during a Congress Special Commission session, where he argued in favor of the new Administration’s human rights policy (analyzed by SPW in our 180 days assessment). On this occasion, Araújo stated that the concept of sexual and reproductive rights is analogous to a “piece of cake with a hidden blade inside” because it merely serves to conceal the “the call for abortion”.

During the OAS General Assembly in July, in Medellín (Colombia), Brazil maintained this same line in diplomatic action. The Brazilian commissioner participating in the debate over the annual resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity did not contest the term “gender”, but at the end of the debate, the Ambassador clarifiedthat Brazil understands “gender” identity as the “biological female sex”.

Back to the domestic level, in June, seven bills against the dissemination of “gender ideology” were tabled at Congress by JMB’s congressional base. These propositions, when added to those submitted since 2015, comprise a total of 16 bills, of which seven are criminal laws (read a brief report). Then, on September 3rd, JMB tweeted that he will order the Ministry of Education to draft a bill to prohibit the dissemination of “gender ideology” in public primary schools. SPW and the Brazilian Interdisciplinary AIDS Association (ABIA) issued a public note that also includes information on similar autocratic measures in relation to gender in education adopted by the governors of Santa Catarina and São Paulo.


As the October general elections approach, a coalition of Catholic and Evangelical congressmen of the National Party (NP) proposed a pre-referendum on August 4th to repeal the Trans Comprehensive Law and collected 69,000 signatures against the Trans Law which were presented to the Electoral Tribunal. The campaign, promoted by NP representative Iafigliola was based on false information, such as that the law will allow for children and adolescents to adhere to hormonal treatments without the authorization of those responsible for them. According to Catholic newspaper Crux Now, the proposal divided the Catholic Church’s hierarchy in the country because, on the one hand, it recognizes that transgender people cannot be discriminated against, but on the other, it fully rejects “gender ideology”. However, resistance to the referendum was strong and managed to mobilize civil society actors, the press and even the local UN office, which issued a public statement. The proposal was defeated as only 9.9% of voters supported the referendum. Even so, Iafligiola declared that he will continue to attack the law.


In the midst of the presidential election campaign in Argentina, a conservative front was forged around the anti-abortion and anti-gender agenda, which included the Valores por País, Nos and Celestial Parties, which comprise conservative sectors from Catholic and Evangelical churches and right-wing military actors (see a compilation). For the first time, public television gave space to the Evangelical churches and a new TV program, named ‘Good News’, commanded by the Christian Alliance of Evangelical Churches of the Argentine Republic (ACIERA), was created and began broadcasting on September 7th.

On September 11, the Argentinean Catholic bishops publicly issued a 20-page document entitled “El Dios de la vida y del amor humano” (The God of life and human love) that strongly repudiates the propagation of “gender ideology”.


The law provision on the Progressive Autonomy of the Child, which includes language on the evolving capacity of children and adolescents, is being targeted by anti-gender forces, including the local chapter of CitizenGo. As analyzed by an excellent CIPER report, CitizenGo, in 2017, has taken its Orange Bus to Chile to campaign against gender and sexuality in education in close partnership with Evangelical groups. Under these pressures, the Piñera majority in Congress lifted the urgent processing status attached to the provision of the Progressive Law on June 30th.


During the Guatemalan presidential race, a coalition front was created to protect “life and family”, composed of 15 presidential and vice-presidential candidates who signed a commitment that they would not approve same-sex marriage or any abortion rights project. On August 12nd, conservative Alejandro Giammattei (Vamos Party) was elected president, declaring his anti-gender, anti-abortion opinions, as well as his support for the death penalty.


In 2017, the Paraguayan government banned sex education from school programs. An article published in El Surtidor, however, revealed that anti-gender organization Decisiones has received public funding for the last seven years to promote false information and conservative religious beliefs on sexual and reproductive rights and health in secondary schools.


In June, the Supreme Court issued a final decision denying the constitutional grounds of the demand imposed by the group Padres en Acción against a gender perspective in the national educational curriculum. The controversy is therefore settled; it represents a major defeat of anti-gender forces in the country and in the region.

The São Tomás Morus Center for Legal Studies – linked to anti-gender organization Padres en Acción and Con Mis Hijos No Te Metas – filed a judicial complaint against the national branch of the feminist organization Catholics for the Right to Decide, demanding its annulment from public records.

The Peruvian Pro Familia Movement, that is also linked to Con Mis Hijos No Te Metas, used without authorization the Lima municipality logo for the promotion of the “Peruvian Family Day”. The municipality demanded that the image should be erased.


Con Mis Hijos No Te Metas spokesperson, Christian Rosas, while visiting Bolivia for his conference “Gender Ideology: How to Defeat a Lie”, received public recognition from the Christian Democratic Party (PDC). This tribute was contested by the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the LGBT movement and later annulled by the Congress’ Social Policy Commission.

Dominican Republic

On May 22nd, the Ministry of Education approved Order N. 33/2019, which establishes as a priority the inclusion of gender equality in the country’s educational plans. The measure, which had received support from the progressive and feminist sectors was directly attacked by the Dominican episcopate and this triggered a wide public debate.


On May 30, the US Department of State announced the creation of the “Commission on Inalienable Rights” to advise Secretary Mike Pompeo. The agency, chaired by anti-abortion activist Mary Ann Glendon, was created to promote a reinterpretation of human rights based on “laws and natural rights”. SPW recommends the Washington Post report. The measure was rejected by Amnesty International in a public statement for its rejection of international agreements and threatens millions of people for motivating other human rights systems not to respect the existing legal framework.

On July 17th, the Secretary of State sponsored the second Ministerial Meeting for the Advancement of Religious Freedom, attended by more than a thousand participants from the US, but also other countries. They comprised mostly Trump allies and religious conservative actors, but also counted with the presence of human rights groups that criticize the Trump administration. According to The Atlantic, the meeting is to be read as an effort to make Washington DC the center of a conservative global order, based on faith.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is preparing a federal policy that will allow adoption institutions to discriminate against candidates based on their religious beliefs that will especially affect LGBTTIQ and non-Christian families. The Christian adoption agency Miracle Hill, to which the Trump administration granted a discrimination exemption in January 2019, is an example. Parents must sign a statement claiming to deny the existence of transgender people and same-sex marriages. In response, Democrat Senator Kirstin Gillibrand proposed on June 13 the Every Child Deserves a Family Law to prevent discrimination promoted by agencies funded by the federal government.

The Equality Act to protect LGBTQ people from various forms of discrimination passed in Congress on July 24th. The bill, introduced in mid-March, modifies a series of laws to guarantee protection against discrimination based on sex, gender identity and sexual orientation. On May 2nd, however, the Department of Health and Human Services published the Health Discrimination Rule, which extends conscientious objection to providers based on religious beliefs for all health-related services, including research and insurance coverage. HHS also proposes new regulations to eliminate LGBTQ discrimination protections from the Accessible Care Act. Lambda Legal, the United States for the Separation of the Church and the State, and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a joint lawsuit that questions the Denial of Attention Care Rule on May 28th.


European Parliament

An openDemocracy report informs that a proposition was tabled at the European Parliament to extend the rights of religious entities within the European Union, allowing religious organizations direct access to the legislative process of that body, especially in order to restrict sexual and reproductive rights.


On May 20, Italian organization Pro Vita and Famiglia put up a 250-meter poster in Rome showing an 11-week fetus, repeating an action carried out a year ago by the Spanish organization CitizenGo. This year, however, the text referred to environmental activist Greta Thunberg, arguing: “If you want to save the planet, save our children” and was signed by the presidents of the World Congress of Families.

On May 18th, the “March for Life” took place in Italy, which was attended by conservative Catholic leaders, such as Cardinal Raymond Burke, who has links with Interior Minister Salvini, senators and other international delegates from the United States, Brazil, Canada, Argentina, New Zealand and other European countries.


In Poland, civil rights activist Elzbieta Podlesna was imprisoned for putting up posters displaying the Virgin Mary with an LGBTQ flag. The protest was intended as a response to slogans promoted by the Catholic Church presented during Easter, which framed gender and LGBTQ rights as sins.

During the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, Archbishop Marek Kedraszewski made comparisons between Marxist ideology and the “rainbow ideology”, saying that LGBT people “want to dominate souls, hearts and minds”. The statement led to a great wave of protest from LGBT groups in the country.


In May, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was received at the White House by Trump. On that occasion, Orbán declared that “the protection of Christian communities throughout the world” is the common goal of both countries, while Trump said he and Orbán were like twin brothers.

In his home country, Orbán once again targeted academic freedom, now focusing on the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (see a compilation). A bill has been proposed to create a higher body with government-appointed delegates to manage the research networks now supervised by the Academy.



Even when attacks on academic freedom are broader than attacks on gender, they constitute a very important aspect of the Turkish scenario. It is, therefore, critical to report on the recent conviction of two Turkish academics, among 400 others who are being tried and convicted. In response, the Academic Committee for Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association published a public letter arguing about the arbitrariness of the sentences, addressed to the signatories of a peace petition in relation to the Kurdish conflict. On July 26, the Constitutional Court issued a decision condemning the Turkish judiciary for violating the right to freedom of expression. On the other hand, that decision has been criticized by academic sectors that support the government.

SOURCE: Sexuality Policy Watch News, 11 September 2019. Reprinted in full with kind permission from SPW.