December 28, 2017 at 6:22 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
YEAR IN REVIEW: Top 10 international stories of the year

Supporters of Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, take part in an International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia March in Havana on May 13, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Here are the top 10 international LGBT news stories of 2017, as ranked by the Washington Blade’s editorial staff.

#10. Trump rolls back normalized U.S., Cuba relations

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The Cuban Embassy on 16th Street, N.W., in Northwest Washington.(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Trump on June 16 reinstated travel and trade restrictions with Cuba.

The directive that Trump signed at a theater in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood bans individual “people-to-people” trips to the Communist island. It also says Americans who travel to Cuba on organized trips must “engage in a full-time schedule of activities that enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities.”

Then-President Obama in 2014 announced the U.S. would begin to normalize relations with Cuba.

Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro who spearheads LGBT-specific issues, is among those who remain highly critical of the U.S. embargo against Cuba that remains in place. The Cuban government said Trump’s policy favors an “extreme minority” of exiles who live in Florida.

Mariela Castro, gay news, Washington Blade

Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, leads an LGBT march through Havana on May 13, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

9. LGBT candidates around the world win election

A number of prominent LGBT elected officials took office around the world in 2017.

Gay Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar assumed office on June 14. Ana Brnabić on June 29 became Serbia’s first woman and openly lesbian prime minister.

Michelle Súarez, who is the first openly transgender person elected to the Uruguayan Senate, was officially sworn in on Oct. 11. Diane Rodríguez earlier this year won a seat in Ecuador’s congress when she ran on the ticket of current Congressman Carlos Vera.

8. LGBT-inclusive Colombian peace agreement implemented

Pedro Santos, who’s gay, told the Blade his father, former Vice President Francisco Santos, strongly opposes the peace agreement. (Photo courtesy Santos)

The Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in 2017 began to implement an LGBT-inclusive peace agreement that ended a decades-long war.

Representatives of Caribe Afirmativo and Colombia Diversa — two LGBT advocacy groups — are among those who took part in peace talks that took place in Havana. Caribe Afirmativo has opened four “Houses of Peace” in northern Colombia in support of the agreement.

Voters in October 2016 narrowly rejected the agreement in a referendum. The country’s Congress later ratified it after President Juan Manuel Santos renegotiated it.

Santos’ gay nephew, Pedro Santos, told the Washington Blade in September during an interview in the Colombian capital of Bogotá that his father, former Vice President Francisco Santos, strongly opposes the agreement. Pedro Santos nevertheless said he is willing to support the agreement’s implementation.

“I can just cry about it and try to deny it happened or help people and try to make it work,” he said, referring to the war that killed more than 200,000 people.

7. Hurricanes devastate Caribbean LGBT communities

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz has criticized the Trump administation’s response to the hurricanes. (Washington Blade photo by Tom Hausman)

Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused widespread destruction throughout the Caribbean in September.

Irma caused widespread destruction in Barbuda, St. Barts, St. Martin, Anguilla, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos and the Florida Keys. It also damaged an LGBT community center in Santo Domingo, Cuba, when it made landfall on the island’s north central coast on Sept. 9 with 160 mph winds.

Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20 with 155 mph winds. The hurricane caused widespread damage in Dominica and St. Croix before hitting the U.S. commonwealth.

People with HIV/AIDS who live on the hurricane-battered islands were unable to access medications in the aftermath of the storms.

Activists in Puerto Rico with whom the Blade spoke after Maria said the hurricane has made LGBT people even more vulnerable to discrimination because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz — who champions LGBT rights in the U.S. commonwealth — remains among the most vocal critics of the federal government’s response to Maria.

6. Anti-LGBT violence persists

Violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity remained pervasive throughout the world in 2017.

David Valle, a prominent LGBT rights advocate in Honduras, was brutally attacked inside his home in the country’s capital of Tegucigalpa in July. Karla Avelar, executive director of Comunicando y Capacitando a Mujeres Trans, a Salvadoran trans advocacy group, in October sought refuge in Ireland after she received death threats.

She spoke with the Blade on Sept. 22 in her office in the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador.

“To work in the fight for the human rights of my community is part of my conviction,” she said. “This is the vision that I have for the future, to see that my country gets better.”

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein earlier this month acknowledged during a Capitol Hill panel that anti-LGBT violence persists around the world. He specifically cited a Slovenian activist who told him in September that homophobic attacks have increased “very suddenly” in his country, despite efforts to extend rights to the country’s LGBT community.

“When you’re fighting for rights, you don’t relax for one moment,” said al-Hussein.

5. More countries legalize marriage

Same-sex couples in several countries won marriage rights in 2017.

The Australian House of Representatives on Dec. 7 nearly unanimously approved a same-sex marriage bill. Gays and lesbians can begin to marry in the country on Jan. 9.

Lawmakers in Germany and Malta in 2017 approved measures that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The Austrian Constitutional Court on Dec. 5 ruled same-sex couples will be able to tie the knot by the beginning of 2019. The Taiwanese Constitutional Court on May 24 said same-sex couples will be able to legally marry if lawmakers fail to “amend or enact relevant laws” within two years.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet on Aug. 28 introduced a bill that would extend marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples. Lawmakers in Bermuda this month approved a bill that would rescind marriage rights for same-sex couples in the British territory.

4. World leaders promote LGBT rights

Justin Trudeau, gay news, Washington Blade

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized to Canadians who suffered persecution under his country’s laws.(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is among the world leaders who championed LGBT rights in 2017.

Trudeau on Nov. 28 apologized to Canadians who suffered persecution and discrimination under his country’s anti-LGBT laws and policies. Trudeau, along with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has publicly condemned the crackdown against LGBT Chechens that began earlier this year.

Bachelet on Aug. 28 introduced a bill that would extend marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples. She has also urged Chilean lawmakers to approve a trans rights bill.

Panamanian First Lady Lorena Castillo was the grand marshal of Panama City’s Pride parade in July. Costa Rican Vice President Ana Helena Chacón — who, like Castillo, is a vocal supporter of LGBT rights, is among those who spoke at a same-sex marriage conference that took place in her country’s capital of San José in November.

3. Australia voters back same-sex marriage

A majority of Australian voters who participated in a non-binding plebiscite on whether to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples voted “yes.”

The results that the Australian Bureau of Statistics announced on Nov. 14 indicated 61.6 percent of voters said “yes,” compared to 38 percent of voters who said “no.” Nearly 80 percent of eligible voters took part in the plebiscite for which Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called

Australian lawmakers approved a same-sex marriage bill less than a month later.

Alex Greenwich, a member of the New South Wales Parliament who co-chairs Australian Marriage Equality, a group that campaigned in support of the issue, told the Blade on Dec. 10 during the Victory Institute’s International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. the plebiscite “was an experience nobody wanted.” Greenwich nevertheless added the “yes” campaign “galvanized people like never before to support their LGBTI friends and family members.”

2. Anti-LGBT crackdowns in Chechnya, Egypt

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has sought to dismiss reports of an anti-gay crackdown in Chechnya. (Photo by World Economic Forum; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Anti-LGBT crackdowns in several parts of the world made headlines in 2017.

Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper, in April reported authorities in Chechnya have arrested more than 100 men because of their sexual orientation since the beginning of the year. At least three of these men died after their arrest, while others were beaten and tortured and sent to a secret prison.

The crackdown has also targeted women they suspect are lesbians.

The Kremlin has claimed it has launched an investigation into the allegations, even though Russian President Vladimir Putin has sought to downplay or even dismiss these reports. Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who is a close Putin ally, in July said he doesn’t “have any gays” in the semi-autonomous Russian republic.

Human rights advocates have said Egyptian authorities since September have arrested dozens of LGBT people. They have also criticized officials in Azerbaijan for arresting more than 80 people in September on grounds they were protecting public morality and health.

1. Trump sparks outrage around the world

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The world hates Donald Trump. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

LGBT rights advocates around the world in 2017 were sharply critical of President Trump and his foreign policy.

Andrea Ayala, executive director of Espacio de Mujeres Lesbianas por la Diversidad, an LGBT advocacy group in El Salvador, in September described Trump’s immigration policy as “inhumane.” Ayaz Shalal, a human rights activist from Kurdistan, was unable to attend a Human Rights Campaign conference in D.C. earlier this year because Iraq was among the countries the Trump administration included in its controversial travel ban.

Iraq was not included in a revised version of the policy, but advocates remained highly critical of Trump throughout 2017.

The U.S. on Sept. 29 voted against a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution that included a provision condemning the death penalty for those found guilty of committing consensual same-sex sexual acts. Trump has also not publicly condemned the anti-LGBT crackdown in Chechnya.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Randy Berry is no longer the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBT and intersex rights abroad. The U.S. nevertheless continues to promote these issues abroad.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson this year acknowledged Pride month and the Transgender Day of Remembrance. The U.S., France and Brazil blocked Russian and Egyptian efforts to remove a gay-inclusive reference to discrimination from an Olympics resolution the U.N. General Assembly unanimously adopted on Nov. 13.

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

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