January 1, 2020 at 9:58 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Top 10 international news stories of 2019

While some countries forge ahead on a more progressive path, others, including the United States, took big steps backwards on LGBTQ equality in 2019. Our staff picks for the top 10 international news stories of the year:

No. 10 Countries grant marriage rights

Taiwanese activists campaign for marriage rights for same-sex couples. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Lu/Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan)

Taiwan and Northern Ireland in 2019 became the latest countries to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Taiwan in May became the first country in Asia to allow gays and lesbians to marry after lawmakers approved a same-sex marriage bill. A law that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples in Northern Ireland took effect on Oct. 22.

Angola and Botswana this year became the latest countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations, although the Botswana government has appealed the High Court ruling that legalized homosexuality. Media reports indicate lawmakers in Gabon in July approved a new penal code that bans “sexual relations between people of the same sex.”

No. 9 Anti-LGBTQ violence persists in Latin America

Camila Díaz Córdova was a transgender woman who was murdered earlier this year in El Salvador. She migrated to the U.S. after receiving death threats, but was deported back to the Central American country. (Photo courtesy of ASPIDH Arcoiris Trans)

Rates of violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity remained high throughout Latin America in 2019.

Camila Díaz Córdova, a transgender woman from El Salvador who the U.S. deported in 2017, died on Feb. 3 after she was found at a hospital with multiple injuries. Three Salvadoran police officers have been charged with Díaz’s murder.

Bruna Benevides of Associação Nacional dos Travestis e Transsexuais, a Brazilian trans advocacy group, on Sept. 13 said during an International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights event in D.C. that a trans person is killed in her country every 48 hours. The International Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association for Latin America and the Caribbean (ILGALAC) in November said four LGBTQ people are killed each day in Latin America.

No. 8 Cuba continues crackdown on LGBTQ activists, journalists

Maykel González Vivero, publisher of Tremenda Nota. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Cuban government in 2019 continued its crackdown against independent LGBTQ activists and journalists.

Cuban police on May 11 arrested several people who took part in an unsanctioned LGBTQ march in Havana. The event took place less than a week after the National Center for Sexual Education, a group directed by Mariela Castro, the daughter of former President Raúl Castro, cancelled its International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia marches that were scheduled to take place in the Cuban capital and in the city of Camagüey.

The Cuban government on May 8 refused to allow this reporter into the country after arriving at Havana’s José Martí International Airport. Maykel González Vivero, director and co-founder of Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba, is among the independent journalists who the Cuban government has prohibited from leaving the country.

The U.S. on Sept. 18 granted asylum to Yariel Valdés González, a Blade contributor who suffered persecution in Cuba because he is a journalist. He remains in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody because his case has been appealed.

No. 7 Gay Luxembourg leader addresses U.N.

Xavier Bettel, Luxembourg, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade
Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel on Sept. 24, 2019, made history when he became the first out head of state to speak about LGBTI-specific issues at the U.N. General Assembly. Bettel was among those who spoke at a U.N. LGBTI Core Group event. (Photo by Julien Becker; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel on Sept. 24 became the first out head of government to speak about LGBTQ-specific issues at a U.N. General Assembly.

“Being gay is not a choice, but not accepting it is a choice,” said Bettel at a U.N. LGBTI Core Group event that focused on efforts to end anti-LGBTQ hate speech in social and traditional media. “Homophobia is a choice and we have to fight against it!”

Luxembourg is a small, wealthy European country that borders France, Belgium and Germany. Bettel took office in 2015.

No. 6 Hong Kong reaffirmed as 2022 Gay Games host

Gay Games, gay news, Washington Blade
A June pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong. (Photo courtesy Voice of America/public domain)(Photo by Studio Incendo via Flickr)

The Federation of Gay Games and the Gay Games Hong Kong Management Team in November reaffirmed the decision to hold the 2022 Gay Games in Hong Kong, despite pro-democracy protests that rocked the city this year.

The protests began in response to a proposed law that would allow Hong Kong to extradite residents to China for prosecution. The pro-democracy movement, which includes prominent LGBTQ activists, continues, even though Chief Executive Carrie Lam scrapped the proposal.

Hong Kong was a British colony until China regained control of it in 1997 under an agreement with the U.K. Lam’s pro-Beijing party in November suffered serious loses in Hong Kong’s local elections.

No. 5 Murders of at least 331 transgender people

Ashanti Carmon, gay news, Washington Blade
A vigil honoring Ashanti Carmon. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Transrespect Versus Transphobia Worldwide, a project that Transgender Europe launched, on Nov. 20 published a report that says 331 “trans and gender-diverse people” were reported killed between Oct. 1, 2018, and Sept. 30, 2019.

The report notes Brazil, Mexico and the U.S. had the highest number of murders.

Two trans women of color — Ashanti Carmon and Zoe Spears — were killed in Fairmount Heights, Md., on March 30 and June 13 respectively. Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the U.N.’s LGBTQ rights watchdog, told the Blade after Transrespect Versus Transphobia Worldwide released its report the number of trans people reported killed is “only the tip of the iceberg.”

No. 4 Brunei penal code sparks global backlash

Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, sharia, anti-gay, gay news, Washington Blade
The Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah has come under criticism for a new penal code that would impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of committing sodomy. (Photo by the Presidential Press and Information Office of kremlin.ru via Wikimedia Commons)

A provision of Brunei’s new penal code that sought to impose the death penalty for anyone found guilty of consensual same-sex sexual relations sparked outrage around the world.

The State Department, U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet are among those who sharply criticized the penal code. Ellen DeGeneres and George Clooney also called for a boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel and other properties that Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah owns.

The Bruneian government in May announced it had placed a moratorium on the death penalty in the country.

No. 3 Anti-LGBTQ crackdown continues in Chechnya

The Washington Blade on April 23, 2019, interviewed a gay man from Chechnya who is seeking asylum in the U.S. The man asked the Blade not to publish his name or disclose his identity. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The anti-LGBTQ crackdown in Chechnya continued in 2019.

The Russian LGBT Network on Jan. 14 said at least two people were killed and upwards of 40 others were detained in a “new wave of illegal detentions in Chechnya based on the alleged sexual orientation of victims, both men and women.” The Blade in April spoke with a gay man from Chechnya with HIV who said he asked for asylum in the U.S. “It’s not safe for gay people,” he said, referring to Chechnya.

The State Department in January described the additional reports from the Russian LGBT Network as “deeply disturbing.” President Trump has not publicly commented on the crackdown.

No. 2 Homophobic Brazilian president takes office

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. (Photo by Agência Brasil Fotografias; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro took office on Jan. 1.

Bolsonaro, a former Brazilian Army captain, continues to face widespread criticism over his rhetoric against LGBTQ Brazilians and other underrepresented groups.

Bolsonaro on March 19 stressed his government’s “respect of traditional family values” and opposition to “gender identity” as he spoke alongside President Trump during a press conference in the White House Rose Garden. Bolsonaro on the same day met with Pat Robertson and other evangelical Christians.

Bolsonaro was scheduled to accept an award from the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce in New York on May 14. Bolsonaro cancelled his planned trip to the U.S. after LGBTQ activists, among others, pressured sponsors to withdraw their sponsorship of the event.

No. 1 Trump immigration policy puts LGBTQ migrants at risk

Johana Medina León was a private nurse in her native El Salvador before she migrated to the U.S. in January. Medina, who was transgender, died in a Texas hospital on June 1, 2019, three days after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released her from their custody. Medina’s mother, Patricia Medina de Barrientos, spoke exclusively with the Washington Blade in San Salvador, El Salvador, on July 24, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Patricia Medina de Barrientes)

President Trump’s hardline immigration policies continue to place LGBTQ migrants at risk.

Activists on both sides of the Mexico-U.S. border with whom the Blade spoke in 2019 said the White House’s controversial “remain in Mexico” program that forces migrants to remain in Mexico as they await the outcome of their asylum cases places LGBTQ migrants at increased risk of violence. Activists have also sharply criticized U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement over its treatment of LGBTQ migrants who are in their custody.

More than two-dozen transgender women who were in ICE custody at the Cibola County Correctional Center, a privately run facility in rural New Mexico, on June 26 signed a letter in which they complained about inadequate health care and mistreatment from staff. A dozen gay men and trans women in March said they suffered “rampant sexual harassment, discrimination and abuse” at the Otero County Processing Center, another privately run ICE detention center in New Mexico.

Johana “Joa” Medina León, a trans woman from El Salvador with HIV, on June 1 died at a hospital in El Paso, Texas. ICE released her from its custody three days before her death.

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

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