Oslo is painted in the colors of the rainbow this weekend as thousands are celebrating free and equal love. In fact, more and more countries are hosting official and unofficial pride events. But there have been a number of high profile cases around the world lately that show us just how long we have left to go in regards to the rights and acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans persons (LGBT). Looking at the reality around the world, there is a push-back against LGBT rights.
LGBT-people face prejudice, violence, ostracism and other grave injustices based on sexual orientation and gender expression. This has implications on people’s well being, quality of life, possibility to make a living, as well as safety. According to suicide ratings, LGBTs are particularly vulnerable.
According to the UN, at least 76 countries have discriminatory laws that criminalize private, consensual same-sex relationships, leaving LGBT-persons exposed to arrest, prosecution, imprisonment, and in at least five countries, the death penalty. Despite all of this, Pride events and parades have become an annual event in many countries around the world where LGBT-identity is celebrated. Countries as diverse as Taiwan, Colombia and Israel hold annual celebrations, and new destinations are popping up, often in face of violence and homophobia.
Flickr / Azerbaijan Free LGBT.
Pride evens around the world
In 2013, Curaçao held its first ever Pride celebration week, and in April/May 2014 they hosted the South Caribbean Pride event. Curaçao is a deeply Roman-Catholic nation where discriminatory laws against LGBT-people are being enforced, such as unequal treatment of same sex married couples.
Cyprus held its first Pride Parade in May this year. Thousands came out to show their support, however, the parade was also hit by protestors. Cyprus decriminalized homosexuality in 1998, but it still ranks low in terms of gay rights. The country still lacks laws recognizing same-sex partnerships and against inciting anti-gay violence.
Montenegro had its first ever Pride demonstration in October 2013, despite violent opposition. About 150 people marched through the capital and 2000 police officers held back rock-throwing hate-speaking protestors. In Montenegro there are major occurrences of intolerance against LGBT-people, including attacks. Some progress has been made in that anti-discrimination strategies have been adopted, but they have not been effectively implemented. This year’s parade, planned for late June, has been postponed for security reasons until fall, however, Montenegro already hosted an international festival for movies focusing on LGBT issues in May.
In Serbia hundreds marched through Belgrade in September 2013, three years after the first Pride event in 2010 where 150 people were injured. They marched despite the government who had banned the event in fear of right-wing violence. Serbia also has made an anti-discrimination strategy, as mandated by the EU, but lacks implementation. The lack of implementation translates to discrimination and harassment for LGBT-people. After this, the president, Tomislav Nikolic, seemed more willing to cooperate. Unfortunately, the event for 2014 that was planned for May 31 was canceled due to catastrophic floods that hit the country. The planners are hopeful that the event will happen in September instead.
In Ukraine, 100 activists marched in a private event in September 2013, despite the courts having banned the event after requests from city officials. Despite antagonism, police protected the marchers. As in Russia, the situation for LGBT-people in Ukraine has worsened, and with Russia’s annexation, Ukraine is now also subject to the “anti-propaganda law”. At the same time, homophobia, transphobia and violence against LGBT-people are still widespread, according to NASH MIR Center, a Ukrainian LGBT organization.
Azerbaijan had its first ever Pride event in Baku in September 2013 - a group of gay friends wearing masks (to protect themselves) and carrying rainbow flags walked through the city. No arrests, harassment or violence was reported. Homosexuality was decriminalized as late as 2001, and LGBT-people still suffer oppression and harassment without any legal protection against discrimination.
Art by Dan'y from Azerbaijan. Flickr / Azerbaijan Free LGBT.
Even though homosexuality is punishable by death in Iran, a small group of LGBT-activists wearing masks marked the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia by bravely standing in a Tehran park carrying signs with LGBT slogans.
More than 100 Ugandan LGBT-activists held their second annual Pride gathering in 2013. The year before had ended in beatings, but the activists came back as the police stood by in the events periphery. However, because of the new “jail the gays” bill, it is unlikely that it will be possible do to the same this year.
In Lesotho, where male homosexuality and gender non-conforming individuals face extreme violence, a small group of activists gained a government permit to hold a public march in recognition of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in March 2013.
Mongolia held its first ever Pride week in September 2013, complete with discussions on LGBT rights and health, a PFLAG (a LGBT-ally organization) meeting and a queer film festival. Homosexuality is decriminalized, but remains unprotected and experience attacks by law enforcement officials. The event was successfully held again this June.
In Singapore, where public demonstrations seldom are allowed and often cracked down on, a record 21,000 LGBT-people and allies dressed in pink at the June Pink Dot rally to celebrate the “Freedom of Love” in April 2013. The demonstrations ended in front of the offices of the attorney general, who is defending the colonial-era sodomy law that is being challenged in court. The event will happen again this year in June.
Singapore. Plickr / Tamara Craiu.
Ups and downs
In many countries pride events are made impossible by discriminatory laws. In 2013 Russia enacted an anti-propaganda law to “protect the children” from homosexuality while in reality outlaws public support for LGBT. This also makes public rallies more difficult and dangerous. The Gulf States - Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - criminalize homosexuality, with it being punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. Over a dozen African states criminalize homosexuality, such as Uganda and Nigeria, whose laws are often a product of the British criminal codes following colonization. India also saw a setback as the Supreme Court reinstated a sodomy law that was struck down by the Delhi High Court in 2009.
However, the LGBT community has also seen victories, with 2013 being a very active year in marriage equality. Uruguay and Brazil became the second and third South American countries to endorse marriage equality, after Argentina. The USA is also fighting, and had a huge break through with the Supreme Court deciding on two important cases leading to more and more states offering marriage equality. In Europe, France (2013) and England (2014) became the ninth and tenth countries to enact marriage equality legislation. Also New Zealand can be proud to have become the first Pacific nation to allow same sex couples access to marriage in 2013. In January 2014 Northern Cyprus repealed their Criminal Code provisions that punished consensual same sex acts between men, and the Scottish Parliament approved a same-sex marriage bill in February.
Flickr / Engin_Kurutepe
In addition, transgender and intersex rights have taken great strides. The Netherlands and Sweden have gotten rid of laws requiring people to be sterilized before being able to change their gender on their documents. Germany became a forerunner in Europe for allowing newborns with ambiguous genitalia to be registered as simply X. Nepal has also created a third category for those who do not wish to be identified as male or female, for any reason. Also Bangladesh started offering a third option, but only to the cultural group called hijras. South Korea took strides in letting transgender people change their legal gender without undergoing surgery. In the USA, several states took important steps, such as Delaware adding gender identity to the list protected against discrimination and hate crimes, and California now guaranteeing its students the right to use school facilities and sports that correspond with their gender identity.
Even the new Pope spread some confusion about the Catholic Church’s stand on LGBT-people by saying that: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to Judge?” However, the panel is still out on whether the climate in the church has experienced actual change yet.
Screaming loud, but failing
Around the world, LGBT-issues have gotten more attention which has resulted in a backlash from those who claim to be fighting for family and traditional values. This has resulted in some countries (Uganda and Russia being very well known) making new laws under the guise that they are “protecting children” or “not falling to the pressure of the West”. We have seen this kind of backlash in many other cases when the ruling elite is feeling threatened and are losing ground, such as for women’s rights. Therefore, this “backlash” could just be a larger trend in which LGBT rights and acceptance are on the rise and the homophobes are seriously starting to feel the heat.
Watch the first ever Bollywood music video for gay rights
Main Source: Equality Rising: HRC Global Equality Report 2014, Human Rights Campaign Foundation, 2014.