Events and celebrations in countries around the world are marking the growing acceptance of people who identify as LGBTQ, but acceptance is not universal. Here’s a look at progress and problems.
This year, and especially this month, events and celebrations in countries around the world are marking the growing acceptance of people who identify as LGBTQ.
Some, like New York City and San Francisco, are splashy and spectacular. Others, like Lexington, Kentucky, and Bilbao, Spain, are much more modest, even wary, but they are still celebrations.
There are other places in the world, however, where acceptance of people in the LGBTQ community has been slower, or has shown no signs of progress at all.
Julie Dorf, co-founder and senior adviser of the Council for Global Equality in San Francisco, said the 193 U.N. member states were sharply divided.
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“In a glass-half-full representation, the consensus is definitely one that is slowly bending toward one of equal rights and inclusion of LGBTQ people,” she said, “and yet the world is increasingly either in that camp or in a fairly opposite camp — with not a lot in between.”
But, she added: “I don’t think other countries will join the Russias and Egypts of the world that have an intentional homophobic agenda.”
For example, she said, in Belize, activists who struggled over many years to decriminalize same-sex intimacy — and who experienced extreme hostility and even death threats — were now being courted by the government. “It’s an amazing transformation, it’s a model for the Caribbean,” Dorf said.
Here are some recent trends from around the world:
Efforts to decriminalize same-sex activity are expected in coming months in a number of countries, including Botswana, India, Kenya and Trinidad and Tobago.
In Botswana, one of several countries with laws from British colonial-era rule, a hearing is imminent that will challenge a law banning same-sex sexual activity that can result in up to seven years in prison.
Anna Mmolai-Chalmers, coordinator of Legabibo, a member of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, or ILGA, in Botswana that co-hosted the Pan Africa ILGA regional conference in Gaborone this month, said the success of a recent suit granting a transgender man the right to change his name and gender on official documents might serve as a precedent.
“We are hopeful,” Mmolai-Chalmers said. “It’s the right environment, the right time. But progress hasn’t been without a fight, without sweat and blood. If we win, it will be a milestone achievement. Living with dignity is a right for all human beings.”
Tunisia formally accepted a recommendation to end the practice of forced examinations to “prove” same-sex sexual conduct. And in Taiwan, marriage equality has come closer to becoming a reality than anywhere else in Asia, according to the ILGA, a Geneva-based group that enjoys consultative status at the United Nations and lobbies for LGBTQ equality on behalf of more than 1,300 member organizations in 141 countries.
In Bermuda on June 6, the Supreme Court ruled to overturn the nation’s recent same-sex marriage ban. The move amounted to a reversal of a reversal, as the ban was passed about a year after a previous Supreme Court ruling first allowed marriage equality.
India is in the midst of one of the biggest turnarounds. An 1860 colonial law that criminalized same-sex relations as unnatural remained in effect in independent India until 2009, when the Delhi High Court annulled it. In 2013, the Supreme Court overruled that judgment and recriminalized same-sex relations. Arundhati Katju and Menaka Guruswamy, both lawyers, are representing dozens of petitioners in cases that challenge the constitutionality of the law.
The reversal “was a rude shock,” Katju said. “The 1860 law obstructs citizens from being able to enjoy rights that the constitution grants. The fear of prosecution, the fear of the consequences that follow,” she said, came at great cost to the mental and physical health of LGBTQ citizens.
The petitioners range from well-established city professionals to economically diverse students from around the country, some from very traditional backgrounds. The current law “is saying very loudly that LGBTQ people are criminals,” Guruswamy said. Participating in the public lawsuits, she said, “takes raw courage.”
“This is a big moment,” Guruswamy said of the review that was expected to take place in July before the Supreme Court. “This is the world’s largest constitutional democracy. Recognizing the LGBTQ community reflects the idea of India fought for by generations of Indians,” she said. “The time has come.”
Around the world, LGBTQ people still face harsh laws and brutal treatment.
In Azerbaijan in 2017, police conducted a violent campaign, arresting and torturing transgender women and about 80 men presumed to be gay or bisexual.
In Uganda, police raided and forcibly closed the Queer Kampala International Film Festival at the end of 2017 with no formal legal basis, the latest in a series of attacks and crackdowns on pride events.
In Indonesia, LGBTQ people have been targeted with hateful rhetoric from government officials, attacks on human-rights defenders, raids on lesbian-owned houses and private gay clubs, and unlawful arrests. Transgender women were stripped and beaten, and their heads were shaved.
This rash of anti-LGBTQ incidents, tracked by the ILGA, is only a sampling of recent human-rights violations around the world, the group said.
“They can fine people, imprison people, and even kill people,” in some countries today, said André du Plessis, a human-rights lawyer and executive director of the ILGA.
Overall, du Plessis said, the global LGBTQ movement had made huge strides. “We’ve seen a lot of exciting changes,” from decriminalized same-sex relations in some countries to public apologies and marriage equality in others. “Progress has been slow but steady.”
But there are still about 72 countries where same-sex sexual activity is criminalized, and the death penalty, while not always invoked, exists in about a dozen countries for people who engage in same-sex sexual relations, according to the ILGA, which publishes annual reports that detail the world’s sexual orientation laws and maps that chart where criminalization, protection and recognition laws are enacted.
In Samoa, the gender identities Fa’afafine and Fa’atama — the equivalent of LGBTQ individuals — have long been welcomed by society, but religion and the law do not reflect that acceptance, said Tuisina Ymania Brown, executive director of the Pacific Human Rights Initiative in Samoa and a transgender woman.
“We traverse a difficult line,” Brown said. “It’s been our tradition and culture for a millennia,” but “we are shunned and ostracized under Samoa’s strict national religious agenda, and on top of that, legal acceptance is minimal and confusing.”
In the United States, there has been an uptick in violence against LGBTQ people, according to a recent report: “A Crisis of Hate,” from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. In 2017, there were 52 hate-violence-related homicides of LGBTQ individuals, the highest number reported for a year.
Dawn Ennis, an American transgender woman and mother of three who writes about transgender and family issues, said there were daily hurdles during her transition, despite a legally receptive environment. Reporters hid in the bushes in her Connecticut town, her son was “ambushed,” and she fielded indiscreet comments from pharmacists.
“Questions about identity happen to us on an almost daily basis,” said Ennis.
International travel can be challenging for LGBTQ individuals, but last year Ennis took a business trip to Mexico and a vacation to Ireland and Scotland with her family and they went very well, she said. “The kids were worried, but it could not have been easier.”
She said for successful travel experiences, it was important for LGBTQ people to do their homework and learn about local laws and customs. For example, in some countries it is OK to be transgender but not to be gay.
Ennis recommends consulting the U.S. State Department (the website provides general and country specific information, under special laws & circumstances), to research things like bathroom policies, and update official documents with gender and photo information.
“I’m very fortunate. I pass,” she said, adding that all of her identification matches both her gender identity and now her body.
Overall, though, the transition has not been easy. “I’ve taken the hits, and I’m still standing,” she said. “But I’m so much happier. The kids are doing so well. I have no regrets.”