This article was published on July 5th, 2020
More than fifty years since the Stonewall riots in New York City, and the birth of the gay rights and liberation movement, millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people still experience discrimination across the world every day.
No doubt, we’ve also made progress. The historic U.S. Supreme Court gay marriage ruling of 2015, and the more recent June 2020 ruling that affirmed and extended employment protections for LGBTQ workers are some of the landmark milestones.
However, the grand march towards full LGBTQ equality is not without its fair share of bumps and detours. For example, the Trump administration is forging ahead with a rule that would remove transgender people from sex discrimination protections in healthcare. That’s just one in a long line of assaults on transgender people’s rights by the administration.
Since 2017, the administration has relentlessly rolled back protections for transgender people, including withdrawing regulatory protections for transgender children in schools, banning transgender people from serving in the military, and even threatened to cut off funding to schools that allow transgender girls to participate in sports.
World over, despite some progress, more needs to be done.
Some countries have moved to decriminalize being gay and extended legal protections for LGBTQ individuals. However, others have gone in the opposite direction – instituting harsh measures and punishments for community members.
A global look at the state of LGBTIQ equality
Even before the pandemic hit, many LGBTQ people faced unique challenges. Now with the pandemic, their situation is worsening, further affecting the state of LGBTIQ equality. Crises, unfortunately, tend to negatively impact the marginalized harder than the general population.
According to an OutRight Action International report, the challenges faced by LGBTQ people now include:
- Social isolation and increased anxiety as they are cut off from their regular social and support networks
- The decimation of livelihoods resulting from job loss and the economic fallout from the sectors that predominantly employ LGBTQ people
- Difficulties in accessing essential and quality healthcare such as getting HIV treatments and gender-affirming treatments
- There is an increased risk of domestic or family violence because of lockdowns, curfews, etc. and lack of social support.
- Discrimination, stigma and scapegoating.
- Abuse of state power through repression, exclusion, and criminalization.
Beyond pandemic-related challenges, full LGBTQ equality is still a mirage for many according to an OutRight International report:
- 68 countries around the world continue to ban same-sex relations;
- At least three countries (Equatorial Guinea, Indonesia, and Egypt) which have not explicitly criminalized same-sex relations in the past are considering introductions of bans;
- So-called “conversion therapy” practices designed to change, divert, reorient or suppress the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTIQ people, while varied in their degrees of psychological and physical abuse, occur in countries across the world. They never succeed and cause deep, lasting trauma;
- Only five countries around the world (Ecuador, Taiwan, Brazil, Malta and, as of May 2020, Germany) ban so-called conversion therapy;
- Over the last 12 months, the High Court in Singapore upheld a colonial-era ban on same-sex relations;
- A crackdown against LGBTIQ people intensified in Indonesia;
- Authorities threatened to reintroduce the notorious “anti-homosexuality” act in Uganda;
The movement lost courageous activists like Charlot Jeudy, who died under suspicious circumstances in Haiti, Yelena Grigoryeva, who was murdered in Russia, Sarah Hegazi, who took her own life while in exile in Canada after years of trauma suffered at the hands of Egyptian authorities, and others.
Let’s also not forget the many cases of hate crime and violence against the LGBTQ community. One prime example is the 2016 Orlando shooting at Club Pulse, a gay club where the LGBTQ community could find respite from discrimination.
However, while that horrific shooting captured international attention, most are the cases that go unreported. LGBTQ people are more likely to be targeted in violent crime according to a 2011 Southern Poverty law center analysis of FBI Stats.
LGBTQ people of color are particularly vulnerable because they face higher rates of violence.
Many queer Muslims have to take extra caution while walking down the street at night or even entering their mosques for fear of Islamophobic attacks.
The fight is far from over
Pride month has reminded us of the state of LGBTIQ equality and how far we’ve come as a community. As we celebrate the achievements, let’s also remember the journey ahead. LGBTQ people around the world still face discrimination, violence, inequality, and sometimes torture, jail time, and even execution because of who they are, the people they love, and how they look.
Your sexual orientation and gender identities are part and parcel of who you are. They should never lead to discrimination and abuse.
While legislation, such as the pending Equality Act in the U.S., will solve some of these challenges, the LGBTQ community must not remain complacent. (The Equality Act would expressly protect transgender people from discrimination in employment, housing, federally funded programs, and other domains.)
Executive Director of OutRight Action International, Jessica Stern, comments:
“While there are some landmarks to celebrate over the past year – such as the renewal of the mandate of the UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, the ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States that the Civil Rights Act protects LGBT people from discrimination in employment, Germany introducing a ban on ‘conversion therapy’ and others – the challenges which remain on the road to LGBTIQ equality are momentous. Over the last year, we have faced multiple setbacks. The opposition to equality for LGBTIQ people is strong. While we join celebrations, we must also stay vigilant to ensure that the progress so far does not backslide. We continue to take steps – however small – towards full equality for LGBTIQ people everywhere.”