December 29, 2016 at 11:00 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Top 10 international stories of 2016
international LGBT news stories, gay news, Washington Blade

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Truedau marches in Montreal Pride; Bangladeshi activist Xulhaz Mannan murdered; President Barack Obama meets with LGBT activists in Cuba are among the top international stories in LGBT news in 2016. (Trudeau photo courtesy Trudeau’s office; Mannan photo courtesy Facebook; Washington Blade photo of Cuban activist Juana Mora by Michael K. Lavers)

Here’s a look back at the top 10 international LGBT news stories, as ranked by the Washington Blade’s editorial staff.

#10: Belize Supreme Court strikes down sodomy law


Belize Supreme Court (Photo public domain)

Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin of the Belize Supreme Court in August ruled his country’s colonial-era sodomy law is unconstitutional.

Caleb Orozco, a prominent LGBT rights advocate, and his group, the United Belize Advocacy Movement, challenged the law in 2010.

The Belizean government in September announced it plans to appeal a portion of Benjamin’s ruling. Orozco told the Blade that his case would have an impact throughout the English-speaking Caribbean.

“People are beginning to realize that it is possible to advance LGBT issues in the region,” he said.

#9: Prominent activist murdered in Bangladesh

Xulhaz Mannan, gay news, Washington Blade

Xulhaz Mannan, a prominent Bangladeshi LGBT activist, was hacked to death in April. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

The murder of a prominent LGBT activist in Bangladesh in April sparked outrage around the world.

A group of men hacked Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy to death inside an apartment building in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka on April 25.

Mannan launched Bangladesh’s first LGBT magazine in 2014. He worked for the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka for eight years before joining the U.S. Agency for International Development last September.

President Obama expressed his condolences to Mannan’s family. USAID and the State Department also paid tribute to him.

Ansar-al-Islam, the Bangladeshi branch of al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the murders. Islamists have killed several secular academics, writers, bloggers and members of religious minority groups in the predominantly Muslim country since early 2015.

#8: Brexit vote could impact LGBT rights

A referendum on whether the U.K. should leave the European Union passed in June.

The results of the so-called Brexit referendum sparked concern among activists who said it could adversely impact LGBT asylum seekers.

“Many LGBT refugee and asylum seekers talking to me are worried about how they will be treated with this outcome,” Davis Mac-Iyalla, a gay Nigerian man who received asylum in the U.K., told the Blade from London after the vote.

The European Court of Justice, which is the European Union’s highest court, in 2013 ruled those who face incarceration in their countries of origin because of their sexual orientation could receive asylum in the U.K. and the bloc’s 27 other member states. The European Court of Justice in 2014 said countries within the European Union cannot require gay asylum seekers to prove their homosexuality.

The Brexit vote took place against the backdrop of an influx of refugees and migrants from Syria and other countries into Europe.

Then-Prime Minister David Cameron resigned in the wake of the vote.

#7: Colombia, FARC reach peace deal

Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia, gay news, Washington Blade

Colombian voters on Oct. 2, 2016, narrowly rejected a peace agreement between Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos‘s government and the FARC. (Photo by Antonio Cruz of Abr; courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The Colombian government and a rebel group in September signed an LGBT-inclusive peace deal that sought to end Latin America’s longest-running war.

President Juan Manuel Santos and Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londoño, commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, signed the accord during a ceremony in the Colombian city of Cartagena. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon were among the foreign dignitaries who attended the ceremony.

Representatives of two Colombian LGBT advocacy groups participated in the peace talks that began in Havana in 2012.

Colombian voters in October narrowly rejected the peace deal.

Santos and Londoño in November signed a revised agreement. The Colombian Congress ratified it on Nov. 30.

Lawmakers ratified the peace deal less than eight months after Colombia’s highest court ruled in favor of marriage rights for gays and lesbians. Two men from the city of Cali on May 24 became the first same-sex couple to legally marry in the country.

#6: UN calls on countries to decriminalize homosexuality

Human Rights Day, gay news, Washington Blade

A U.N. report urges countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. (Photo by sanjitbakshi; courtesy Flickr)

A report the U.N. released in October calls upon countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad al-Hussein notes in the 2015 report to the U.N. Human Rights Council that countries “that criminalize consensual homosexual acts are in breach of international human rights law.”

“These laws, by their mere existence, violate the rights to privacy and nondiscrimination,” it reads. “Arrests and the detention of individuals on charges relating to sexual orientation and gender identity — including offenses not directly related to sexual conduct, such as those pertaining to physical appearance or so-called ‘public scandal’ — are discriminatory and arbitrary.”

The report was released two months after the chief justice of the Belize Supreme Court ruled the country’s anti-sodomy law is unconstitutional.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in more than 70 countries.

#5: USAID bans anti-LGBT discrimination among contractors

The U.S. Agency for International Development in 2016 formally banned contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The rule formally took effect on Oct. 25. National Security Advisor Susan Rice made the announcement the following day at American University in Northwest D.C.

“It’s a major step toward ensuring that American assistance is provided in a fair and equitable manner,” said Rice.

USAID Administrator Gayle Smith described the new policy as an “important step forward for USAID and our partners, and ensures our inclusive approach to development will continue into the future.”

The new policy does not require contractors to extend nondiscrimination protections to employees of organizations abroad that receive U.S. funding. It also does not include USAID grantees.

#4: Justin Trudeau emerges as LGBT rights champ

Justin Trudeau, gay news, Washington Blade

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau emerged as a leading LGBT rights supporter in 2016, marching in several Pride parades. (Photo courtesy of Trudeau’s office)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2016 emerged as one of the world’s most prominent LGBT rights champions.

Trudeau this summer became the first Canadian prime minister to march in Pride parades in Montreal and Toronto. A gay man from Syria who received refugee status in Canada in 2014 was the grand marshal of Vancouver’s annual Pride parade in which Trudeau and members of his family participated in July.

Reports emerged in August that the Canadian government plans to apologize to those who were convicted of “gross indecency” before the government of Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in 1969. Justin Trudeau in November announced he had named MP Randy Boissonnault as his special advisor on LGBT issues.

“We have made great strides in securing legal rights for the LGBTQ2 community in Canada — from enshrining equality rights in the Charter to the passage of the Civil Marriage Act,” said Justin Trudeau in a statement.

Transgender Canadians remain vulnerable to discrimination and hate crimes in spite of Justin Trudeau’s support of LGBT-specific issues.

#3: Pope Francis sends mixed signals on LGBT issues

earthquakes, gay news, Washington Blade

Pope Francis (Photo by Jeffrey Bruno; courtesy Wikimedia)

Pope Francis in 2016 continued to send mixed signals in terms of LGBT issues.

The pontiff in June said the Roman Catholic Church should “ask forgiveness” from gay people over the way it has treated them.

A Vatican official in November criticized a priest who said civil unions and other “human sins” caused the two earthquakes that killed nearly 300 people in central Italy earlier this year. Francis earlier this year accepted the resignation of a cardinal who repeatedly used homophobic slurs to describe gay U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy in December released a statement in which the church reaffirmed its ban on gay men in the priesthood. LGBT rights groups in 2016 also criticized Francis over his comments on marriage and gender.

#2: ISIS continues persecution of gay Syrians and Iraqis

The so-called Islamic State continued to persecute gay Syrians and Iraqis in 2016.

ISIS militants in January reportedly threw a teenage boy who they accused of engaging in homosexuality from a roof in the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor. They also reportedly executed another Syrian teenager in May by publicly stoning him.

Ayaz Shalal, a human rights activist from the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, told the Blade in August during an interview in D.C. that he was “terrified” when he read a New York Times article about ISIS executing people who were accused of sodomy.

Iraqi forces with the backing of the U.S. and other countries in October launched an offensive to retake the ISIS stronghold of Mosul. The militant group in 2016 lost territory it once held, but it nevertheless continued to pose a threat.

The gunman who killed 49 people inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., earlier this year pledged his allegiance to ISIS, even though there is no evidence it ordered him to carry out the massacre. Three suspected ISIS members in June reportedly planned to attack a transgender rights march in Istanbul.

#1 Obama meets Cuban LGBT activists in Havana

Juana Mora Cedeño, Havana, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

Juana Mora met with President Obama in Havana earlier this year. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

President Obama in March met with two Cuban LGBT rights advocates during his historic trip to the Communist island.

Juana Mora and Nelson Álvarez were among the members of Cuban civil society who met with Obama in Havana. Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett and U.S. Chief of Mission Jeffrey DeLaurentis also attended the meeting.

Mora is a vocal critic of Cuban President Raúl Castro and his daughter, Mariela Castro, who promotes LGBT-specific issues on the island as director of the National Center for Sexual Education.

Mora and other independent Cuban LGBT rights advocates maintain they face harassment and even arrest. Maykel González Vivero, an independent journalist and LGBT activist, was detained for several days in October while covering the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in the city of Baracoa.

Obama in December 2014 announced the U.S. would begin the process of normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba. He is the first sitting American president to visit the Communist island since 1928.

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

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