December 31, 2015 at 6:27 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Top 10 international stories of 2015
international news

Some of the top international LGBT news stories in 2015 include the marriage referendum in Ireland, the deadly attack at Jerusalem pride resulting in the death of Shira Banki, center, and the appointment of Randy Berry, on right, as a special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBT rights. (Photo of marriage equality sign by William Murphy, courtesy Wikimedia Commons; photo of Shira Banki courtesy of Jerusalem Open House; Washington Blade photo of Randy Berry by Michael Key)

Ireland’s historic referendum that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples, the daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro promoting LGBT rights and the Islamic State’s continued execution of men accused of sodomy are among the international stories that made headlines in 2015. Here is a look back at the top 10 international LGBT news stories, as ranked by the Blade’s editorial staff.

#10 Gambia rejects criticism of LGBT record

International LGBT news

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh (White House photo public domain)

The Gambian government in 2015 remained defiant against continued criticisms of its LGBT rights record.

Gambian Ambassador to the U.S. Omar Faye told the Washington Blade in September in response to a Human Rights Watch report that documented human rights abuses in his country that nobody “can say any gay person has been killed” in the small west African nation. He also dismissed criticisms over President Yahya Jammeh’s anti-LGBT rhetoric.

Jammeh’s nephew, Alagie Jammeh, earlier this year said he faces life in prison or even death in Gambia because of a pro-gay message he posted to Facebook while studying at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

A Gambian court in August acquitted three men who had been charged with “aggravated homosexuality.”

Yahya Jammeh owns a $3.5 million mansion in Potomac, Md.

#9 Egyptian men arrested in bathhouse acquitted of ‘debauchery’

The Egyptian government in 2015 continued to face criticism over its LGBT rights record.

A court in April ruled the Egyptian Interior Ministry can expel “homosexual aliens” from the country. The decision also said the government can prevent them from returning to Egypt.

Egyptian police in February arrested seven “transsexuals” who were part of an alleged “network of debauchery” in Cairo.

An Egyptian court in January acquitted 26 men who had been charged with “debauchery” late last year during a raid on a Cairo bathhouse. Mona Iraqi, a reporter for a pro-government television station who tipped off authorities after she was unable to enter the building, in November received a six-month jail sentence for “defaming” those who were arrested.

#8 Russia continues LGBT crackdown

international LGBT news

Vladimir Putin (Photo by MARIAJONER; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The Kremlin in 2015 continued its crackdown on LGBT rights.

A judge in January convicted the founder of a website for LGBT youth of violating the country’s law that bans the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors.

A U.N. budget committee in March overwhelmingly rejected a resolution sponsored by Russia that sought to overturn Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s decision to extend spousal benefits to gay U.N. personnel who are legally married.

Two Russian lawmakers in October introduced a bill that critics contend would effectively ban gays and lesbians from coming out. A Russian newspaper last month reported U.S. officials ordered a prominent LGBT rights advocate to discredit Kremlin officials.

The newspaper based its report on a fake letter between Special U.S. Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry and Nikolai Alexeyev.

#7 LGBT advocates criticize TPP deal

Advocates in 2015 sharply criticized a controversial trade agreement between the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim countries because it does not include LGBT-specific protections.

Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the U.S. and Vietnam would join the Trans-Pacific Partnership if the countries ratify it.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain illegal in Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore.

Brunei in 2014 began to implement a new legal code based on Sharia law that punishes those convicted of homosexuality by stoning them to death. Malaysia’s highest court in February upheld former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s conviction under the country’s anti-sodomy law. “TPP fails the test for important LGBT concerns,” said Pride at Work Executive Director Jerame Davis in November after the text of the trade agreement was released.

#6 Teenager killed during Jerusalem Pride

Shira Banki, Jerusalem Pride, gay news, Washington Blade

Shira Banki was stabbed to death at a Jerusalem Pride parade.(Photo courtesy of Jerusalem Open House)

An attack on a Jerusalem Pride march on July 30 left a teenager dead and five others injured.

Prosecutors allege that Yishai Schlissel stabbed Shira Banki to death with a butcher’s knife as she took part in the march that Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, a local LGBT advocacy group, organized. Schlissel, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man, faces charges of premeditated murder and attempted murder in connection with the attack.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro are among the officials who condemned the attack.

An Israeli court convicted Schlissel of attempted murder and aggravated assault in connection with the stabbing of three people during a 2005 Pride march in Jerusalem. He was released from prison less than a month before the July 30 attack.

#5 Islamic State executes men accused of sodomy

ISIS, gay news, Washington Blade

ISIS posted images that appear to show blindfolded Syrian and Iraqi men being thrown from buildings.

The Islamic State’s public execution of men accused of engaging in sodomy sparked global outrage in 2015.

The Sunni militant group throughout 2015 posted to its website and social media pages images that appear to show blindfolded Syrian and Iraqi men being thrown from buildings with their hands tied behind their backs. The Islamic State has also reportedly beheaded and stoned to death those who have been accused of sodomy.

Reports indicate the Islamic State, also known as Daesh, has executed more than 30 men in Syria and Iraq accused of sodomy.

The U.N. Security Council in August used its first-ever meeting on an LGBT-specific issue to focus on the Islamic State.

“We are all horrified by ISIL’s videos of men being thrown to their death,” said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power during the meeting.

#4 LGBT rights gain traction in Latin America

Mariela Castro Espín, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade, International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, IDAHAT

Mariela Castro at IDAHOT rally in Las Tunas, Cuba on May 16, 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers) (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

LGBT rights advocates throughout Latin America in 2015 celebrated a number of legal and political advances.

The Constitutional Court of Colombia in November ruled that same-sex couples can adopt children. The same tribunal in July held a hearing on whether same-sex couples should receive marriage rights in the South American country.

The Mexican Supreme Court in 2015 issued a number of rulings that struck down same-sex marriage bans. A Chilean law that allows gays and lesbians to enter into civil unions took effect in October.

The Colombian government in June issued a decree that allows transgender people to legally change their name and gender without surgery. Tamara Adrián on Dec. 6 became the first openly trans person elected to the Venezuelan National Assembly. Uruguay in November became the second Latin American country to join a U.S. initiative that seeks to promote LGBT rights around the world.

Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, in May organized a series of events in Cuba to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

Hundreds of advocates from across Latin America gathered in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa for a conference the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund co-sponsored.

#3 White House promotes LGBT rights abroad

Randy Berry, gay news, Washington Blade

Randy Berry was named special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBT rights. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Promoting LGBT rights overseas remained a cornerstone of President Obama’s foreign policy in 2015.

The State Department in February appointed Randy Berry as the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBT rights. The career Foreign Service officer has traveled to Uganda, Honduras, Lebanon and more than 20 other countries since he officially assumed his post in April.

Obama in July highlighted LGBT rights during a press conference with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta in his country’s capital of Nairobi. The American president also met with Kenyan LGBT rights advocates.

Secretary of State John Kerry in August during his meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak raised the case of a leading opposition figure who is serving a five-year prison sentence after his conviction under the country’s anti-sodomy law.

The White House in May said LGBT rights were a factor in the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

#2 Irish voters approve marriage rights

(Photo by William Murphy; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

(Photo by William Murphy; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Ireland in May became the first country to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples through a popular vote.

The referendum passed by a 62-38 percent margin.

“It is about removing discrimination,” said Irish Prime Minister Edna Kenney in an interview with NBC News.

President Michael Higgins in August officially amended the Irish Constitution to codify the referendum results. The Irish Presidential Commission on Oct. 29 formally signed a law that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Marriage for gays and lesbians became legal in the country on Nov. 16.

#1 Pope Francis brings hope to LGBT Catholics

Pope Francis has struck a more moderate tone on LGBT issues than his predecessor. (Photo by Jeffrey Bruno; courtesy Wikimedia)

Pope Francis has struck a more moderate tone on LGBT issues than his predecessor. (Photo by Jeffrey Bruno; courtesy Wikimedia)

Pope Francis in 2015 maintained his largely moderate tone toward LGBT issues.

The pontiff in February said during a Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica that the church cannot “condemn anyone for eternity.”

A transgender man from Spain in January had a private audience with the pontiff at the Vatican. Francis in March met with gay, trans and HIV-positive prisoners in the Italian city of Naples.

Francis in September during his trip to the U.S. and Cuba reiterated the Catholic Church’s position on marriage. The Vatican downplayed the pope’s meeting with Rowan County (Ky.) Clerk Kim Davis, who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of her religious beliefs.

Catholic bishops in October reiterated the church’s opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples in the final draft of their long-awaited report on the family. Francis in January said during his trip to the Philippines that “ideological colonization” seeks to “destroy the family.”

A Chilean newspaper in September published emails between two cardinals that showed they conspired to block the nomination of a gay man to a papal sex abuse commission. LGBT Catholics in November criticized Francis for not publicly speaking against Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act while in the African country.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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