As LGBTQ+ History Month comes to a close in the UK and other countries, it is worthwhile to take a snapshot of LGBTQ+ rights in the world today. Great strides have been made in the past decade, with many nations recognising same-sex marriage and putting into place protections against discrimination for the queer community in the law. However, in many countries in the world, it still is not safe to be LGBTQ+ because of the deplorable atrocities happening both in the open and behind closed doors.
In the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA)’s comprehensive State-Sponsored Homophobia Report released last year, it was noted that same-sex sexual activity is a crime in 70 countries, and punishable by the death penalty in 13 countries, including Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Other punishments include prison sentences – 26 member states of the United Nations can punish homosexuality with prison times ranging from 10 years to life.
In 2017, over 100 men believed to be gay or bisexual were abducted by state forces in Chechnya and taken to camps where they were tortured or killed, Amnesty International reported at the time. The Russian government has largely tried to cover this up, with the head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov denying any persecution and the existence of gay people in the country, and implied that if there were their families would “send them somewhere from which there is no returning,” as the Guardian wrote at the time.
However, worldwide the recognition of LGBTQ+ rights is much better than it used to be. In 2011, the UN passed its first resolution recognising LGBTQ+ rights, and under international law, it is illegal for countries to have laws criminalizing homosexuality. This is a big step in terms of creating a mechanism of international accountability and provides a good context for prioritizing LGBTQ+ human rights. There is only so much the UN can do however, and often domestically is where the most change needs to happen. This is an ongoing process, exampled by the fact that 28 countries now recognise same-sex marriage, with Northern Ireland, Ecuador and Taiwan joining this list in the past year.
More and more countries are introducing legislation to protect LGBTQ+ people against the various forms of discrimination that can occur. New Zealand is considering a bill that would ban conversion therapy, Switzerland has had massive public support for a bill that would make discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity illegal, and landmark cases fighting against discrimination in the workplace have made it to the Supreme Court in the US.
Of course, there are still many harms against LGBTQ+ people in these countries. The process to change a person’s legal gender is a harrowing process for trans people and in many states in the US it is legal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In 2017, an Australian study found that nearly 50% of the trans and gender diverse participants had attempted suicide. Universally, the queer community has much higher rates of depression and other mental health problems. These issues are all only compounded where issues of race and class also intersect.
The state of LGBTQ+ rights worldwide is the best that it has ever been. But that is a low bar compared to what we should be striving for. Both big and small steps need to be taken for LGBTQ+ rights to be adequately protected in the future. This can range from better representation of LGBTQ+ issues in the media to more streamlined and transparent process for LGBTQ+ refugees claiming asylum. Raising awareness and improving public perception of LGBTQ+ rights are key strategies that must be utilized if further change is to occur. We saw this in action last year, with Brunei walking back its brutal laws punishing same-sex activity through death by stoning. This was done after weeks of worldwide public criticism, with many high-profile celebrities boycotting luxury hotels owned by the country’s investment agency, reported NPR.
Widespread public condemnation has been a successful tactic for protecting LGBTQ+ rights, that later translates to government policies being enacted. This peaceful method of enacting change is commendable both in its process and its outcomes. The key is highlighting LGBTQ+ issues in the news and media and kept in the public consciousness. Without that, many horrible discriminatory practices occur out of the spotlight and are not stopped.
All this headway has been made through the good work of people persevering through the atrocity. Unfortunately, more perseverance is needed. But, with LGBTQ+ issues becoming more talked about and prevalent in the media, more people learn to care, and more change can happen.
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