International LGBTQ rights: Progress and setbacks

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There is no straight line connecting the global fight for queer rights. Stories of repression abound but so do those of improvement. And some countries, like the United States, are going both forward and backward.

LGBTQ rights are a lightning rod for neo-conservatives. The same people who believe women and children are property of a husband also condemn the queer community. Undoubtedly, homophobia and transphobia are intrinsically linked to sexism.

Queer families and relationships toss hetero norms out the window and undermine both gender and sexual stereotypes. Capitalism, an economic system based on private property, would certainly crumble without homophobic and sexist oppressions. This is because all of the so-called misfits challenge sex role stereotypes, which pit people against each other and make it easier for capitalists to exploit everyone.

As the economic system falters, and the gap between rich and poor grows, there are increased levels of conflict and attempts to drag society backwards.

Roadblocks and abuses. In 2013, Russia’s Vladimir Putin pushed for, and got passed, the misnamed “gay propaganda” law. It makes any portrayal of homosexuality illegal. Since its passage, violent crimes against Russian queers have doubled — including over 200 murders. Unfortunately, China followed in 2015 with a similar law.

Currently most African and Asian countries ban same-sex relations, particularly between men. And the past decade has seen a rise in oppression and violence. One reason for this can be laid at the feet of U.S.-based fundamentalist Christian groups and preachers.

Scott Lively, a rabid U.S. evangelical, harangued against queer rights in Uganda. Lively claimed that gays threaten society by causing higher divorce rates, child abuse, and HIV transmission. He helped whip up the hate that culminated in the 2014 Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act. The law initially called for the death penalty but was amended to life imprisonment. Thankfully the law was tossed out by the courts.

Earlier this year, the Tanzanian government ramped up its war on the LGBT community by closing drop-in centers that provided HIV services for key populations. The claim that the centers promoted homosexuality was used to deny health care to a desperate population and ignored the fact that women were infected at higher rates than men.

And despite real gains of the U.S. queer community, violence against the most vulnerable abounds. In 2017 in the United States, 27 trans people, most of them women of color, were murdered.

In spite of the violence, the LGBTQ community refuses to be driven back into the closet.

Left: JAMAICA bans “preacher of hate.” Center: KENYA courts reject anti-gay law. In UGANDA (shown) pride parades continue despite harsh repression. Right: Along with over 20 countries since 2000, NEW ZEALAND celebrates gay marriage.

Balancing the scales. Across the globe there is organizing and fightback. Over the past 10 years, the number of countries that ban same-sex activity dropped from 92 to 71, a 23 percent improvement.

And since 2000, over twenty countries have legalized same-sex marriage, on pretty much every continent.

Arab Spring helped galvanize queer organizing in the Middle East. It’s difficult work, often done underground, but it is growing in influence. Human Rights Watch quotes a gay Egyptian activist, “It [Arab Spring] produced me. I was involved in LGBT groups since 2008, but they were always afraid to do much. From 2011, when Mubarak was ousted, it was like there was nothing that could not be destroyed.”

In 2016, two teenage girls were arrested in Morocco for kissing. Feminists and LGBTQ activists organized 22 organizations from the Middle East and Northern Africa to condemn the arrests. The girls were acquitted and released.

Across the globe there are other victories. Despite severe repression, Ugandans have held Pride parades since 2015.

In 2016, Hong Kong’s openly gay legislative council member, Ray Chan Chi-Chuen, was handily re-elected. Chuen came out during his first term.

And in 2017 Taiwan’s court overturned a ban on same-sex marriage, but left open the possibility of making it illegal in the future. Queer activists are organizing to keep, and extend, this gain.

In January 2018, Jamaican officials denied U.S. anti-gay Pastor Steven Anderson entrance into the country. Over 38,000 people signed a petition demanding Anderson be banned because he calls for homosexuals to be stoned to death.

Earlier this year a Kenyan court ruled that it is illegal to force men to undergo invasive medical testing to determine if they are engaged in same-sex relations. This barbaric procedure, used in many countries including Egypt, has been condemned for years. Local activists hope this ruling will lead to the decriminalization of homosexuality in Kenya.

Costa Ricans overwhelmingly voted for Carlos Alvarado for president this spring. He obtained 60 percent of the vote by championing equal rights and marriage for the LGBTQ community. And in April 2018, a court ruling in Trinidad and Tobago decriminalized homosexuality.

Onward and outward. History teaches that activists must understand what the enemy is. Evangelicals and right wing politicians are working overtime to keep the divisions that prop up capitalism. Racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia are all used to keep natural allies divided.

But the divisions are receding. LGBTQ activists are on the move and continuing the unrepentant fight for queer equality. “We don’t want the image anymore of just being victims,” Zoheir, a gay activist from Algeria told Human Rights Watch. “We want to speak about reality, about violence, but also to show what is positive.”

In defiance of the repression, today’s activists are forging local struggles that can, hopefully, cross national boundaries. In 2001, there were no LGBTQ rights movements in most Arabic-speaking states. Today in 2018, there are dozens.

Persecution sparks revolt and the flame is growing into a bonfire.

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