The Biden administration’s pledge to champion LGBTQ rights abroad was the dominant international story in 2021, but anti-LGBTQ crackdowns and efforts to expand rights also made headlines around the world over the past year. Here are the top 10 international stories of 2021.
#10: Botswana Court of Appeals decriminalizes same-sex sexual relations
The Botswana Court of Appeals on Nov. 29 upheld a ruling that decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country.
Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) challenged the colonial-era criminalization law.
Botswana’s High Court in 2019 unanimously ruled the law was unconstitutional. The Batswana government appealed the decision.
“Today is a momentous day in history, a victorious win in ascertaining liberty, privacy and dignity of the LGBTIQ persons in Botswana and definitely, this judgement sets precedence for the world at large,” said LEGABIBO CEO Thato Moruti after the Court of Appeals ruling.
#9: LGBTQ athletes compete in Summer Olympics
A record number of openly LGBTQ athletes competed in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Laurel Hubbard, a weightlifter from New Zealand, became the first out trans person to compete in any Olympics. Quinn, a non-binary trans person who is a member of the Canadian women’s soccer team, won an Olympic gold medal.
Tom Daley, a British Olympic diver who is married to Dustin Lance Black, also medaled during the games.
#8: LGBTQ activists, journalists arrested in Cuba
LGBTQ activists and journalists were among the hundreds of people who were arrested during anti-government protests in Cuba on July 11.
Maykel González Vivero, director of Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba, was violently arrested near Havana’s Revolution Square during one of the protests.
Yoan de la Cruz, a gay man who live-streamed the first protest that took place in San Antonio de los Baños, remains in custody. He faces an 8-year prison sentence.
The protests took place against the backdrop of mounting food shortages, a worsening economic crisis, human rights abuses and criticism over the government’s response to the pandemic. Thousands of Cuban Americans on July 26 marched to the Cuban Embassy in D.C. in support of the protesters.
#7: Gay Games in Hong Kong remain in doubt
The 2023 Gay Games that are scheduled to take place in Hong Kong remain in doubt amid growing concerns over China’s human rights record.
Gay Games Hong Kong in September postponed the event until 2023 because of the pandemic.
Hong Kong’s National Security Law, which human rights activists say makes it easier for authorities to punish anyone in the former British colony who challenges the Chinese government, took effect in 2020. Upwards of 2 million Hong Kongers took part in pro-democracy protests the year before.
The Women’s Tennis Association has suspended tournaments in Hong Kong and throughout China in response to the disappearance of Peng Shuai, a Chinese tennis star, after she publicly accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. Diplomats from the U.S. and other countries will also boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
“The Federation of Gay Games continues to monitor the situation in Hong Kong regarding COVID-19, the National Security Law and all other aspects that affect the safety and security of our event,” Sean Fitzgerald, co-president of the Federation of Gay Games, told the Blade in a statement after the Women’s Tennis Association announced it had suspended all of its tournaments in China. “We are committed to hosting Gay Games 11 in Hong Kong in November 2023.”
#6: Anti-LGBTQ crackdowns continue in Hungary, Poland
The governments of Hungary and Poland in 2021 continued their anti-LGBTQ crackdowns.
The European Commission in July announced legal action against Hungary after a law that bans the promotion of homosexuality and sex-reassignment surgery to minors took effect. Hungarian lawmakers in November approved a resolution that paves the way for a referendum on LGBTQ issues.
The European Commission in September threatened to withhold funds from five Polish provinces that have enacted so-called LGBTQ “free zones.” Polish lawmakers have also sought to ban Pride marches and other pro-LGBTQ events.
#5: LGBTQ candidates elected throughout the world
LGBTQ candidates won elections throughout the world in 2021.
Two transgender women — Tessa Ganserer and Nyke Slawik — won seats in the German Parliament in September. Emilia Schneider in November became the first openly trans person elected to the Chilean congress.
Victor Grajeda in November became the first openly gay man to win a seat in the Honduran congress.
Openly gay Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Idan Roll is the youngest person in his country’s new government that formed in June after long-time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ouster. Israeli Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz is also openly gay.
#4: Efforts to ban conversion therapy gain traction
More countries moved to ban so-called conversion therapy in 2021.
A Canadian law that prohibits the widely discredited practice in the country will take effect in January.
French lawmakers on Dec. 15 approved a bill that would ban conversion therapy in their country.
Measures to prohibit conversion therapy are also before legislators in Finland and New Zealand. The British Parliament in 2022 is expected to debate a bill that would ban conversion therapy in England and Wales.
Brazil and Malta are two of the countries that already ban conversion therapy.
#3: VP Harris acknowledges anti-LGBTQ violence as cause of migration
Vice President Kamala Harris throughout 2021 acknowledged that anti-LGBTQ violence is one of the “root causes” of migration from Central America.
Harris in June raised the issue during a meeting with Visibles Executive Director Daniel Villatoro, Ingrid Gamboa of the Association of Garifuna Women Living with HIV/AIDS and other Guatemalan civil society members that took place in Guatemala City. State Department spokesperson Ned Price, who is openly gay, a few weeks earlier told the Blade that protecting LGBTQ migrants and asylum seekers is one of the Biden administration’s global LGBTQ rights priorities.
Immigrant rights activists who remain critical of the Biden administration’s immigration policy note Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the coronavirus pandemic, remains in place. The so-called Remain in Mexico policy that forces asylum seekers to pursue their cases in Mexico has also been reinstated under a court order.
“To be a trans person is synonymous with teasing, harassment, violence and even death,” Venus, a transgender woman from La Ceiba, Honduras, told the Blade in July during an interview in the city.
#2: LGBTQ Afghans desperate to flee after Taliban regains control
LGBTQ Afghans remain desperate to flee after the Taliban regained control of the country on Aug. 15.
Two groups of LGBTQ Afghans that Stonewall, Rainbow Railroad and Micro Rainbow evacuated with the help of the British government arrived in the U.K. in the fall. Some of the Afghan human rights activists who Taylor Hirschberg, a researcher at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health who is also a Hearst Foundation scholar, has been able to help leave the country since the Taliban regained control of it are LGBTQ.
A Taliban judge in July said the group would once again execute gay people if it were to return to power in Afghanistan. Rainbow Railroad and Immigration Equality are among the groups that continue to urge the Biden administration to do more to help LGBTQ Afghans who remain inside the country.
#1: Biden commits U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad
The Biden administration in February issued a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price, who is gay, in May told the Washington Blade the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the five global LGBTQ rights priorities for the Biden administration.
The White House in June named then-OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern as the next special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad. The State Department in October announced it would issue passports with an “X” gender marker.
Botswana government to abide by decriminalization ruling
Mokgweetsi Masisi met with LGBTQ activists on Monday
Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi on Monday said his government will abide by a ruling that decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in his country.
Masisi said he would implement the Botswana High Court’s 2019 ruling against sections of the Batswana Penal Code that criminalized homosexuality.
The Batswana government appealed the High Court ruling. The Botswana Court of Appeals last November upheld it.
Agence France-Presse reported Masisi invited representatives of Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO), a Batswana LGBTQ rights group that challenged the criminalization law with the support of the Southern Africa Litigation Center, to meet with him at his office in Gaborone, the Batswana capital.
“We demand and expect anybody to respect the decisions of our court,” Masisi told LEGABIBO members, according to Agence France-Presse.
Botswana remains one of only a handful of countries that have decriminalized homosexuality.
Global Equality Caucus hires former El Salvador National Assembly candidate
Erick Iván Ortiz received more than 10,000 votes in 2021
A group of LGBTQ elected officials from around the world that fights discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has hired an openly gay man who ran for the El Salvador National Assembly last year.
Erick Iván Ortiz will oversee the Global Equality Caucus’ work throughout Latin America.
This work will specifically focus on Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Peru. Two events that are scheduled to take place in Mexico City in April and Buenos Aires in May will mark the official launch of the Global Equality Caucus’ efforts in the region.
“The idea at the end of the day is to confront the threats from anti-rights groups that can be identified,” Ortiz told the Washington Blade during a recent interview in the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador.
Ortiz, who is a member of Nuestro Tiempo, a new Salvadoran political party, received 10,615 votes when he ran for National Assembly in 2021. Ortiz would have been the first openly gay man elected to the country’s legislative body if he had won.
Election in India’s most popular state seen as crucial LGBTQ rights test
Right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party currently governs Uttar Pradesh
India’s most populous state and a battleground for Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold the election in seven phases in February as the Election Commission of India has announced.
The Uttar Pradesh election is the key prize in India’s parliamentary election as the state holds 80 parliamentary seats, the most in the country. Uttar Pradesh’s LGBTQ community and LGBTQ people from across the country have been eyeing this election because it can play a crucial role in policy changes for the community in India.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a right-wing nationalist party, is ruling Uttar Pradesh. The party is also ruling the country under Modi, but it has not been supportive of same-sex marriage.
“We are not a minority anymore. The community is thriving in the state,” said Lovpreet, a Lucknow-based activist who works for transgender rights in Uttar Pradesh. “If the current government is not going to give us the right for same-sex marriage, we should remove the government in this election.”
The ruling party is yet to release its election manifesto, but the party is not considering listing LGBTQ issues in it.
A newly married same-sex couple from New York last year applied for an OCI (overseas citizen of India) Card, which would have allowed them multiple entries and a multi-purpose life-long visa to visit India, but the country did not recognize them as legally married and refused to issue it to them.
The couple filed a petition in Delhi High Court. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who is the central government’s legal representative, stated in response to the petition that marriage is permissible between a “biological male” and “biological female” and the government therefore cannot issue an OCI Card to their spouse.
Although India struck down a colonial-era law that criminalized homosexuality in 2018, there is still no law for same-sex marriage. The LGBTQ community has been demanding for years that political parties legalize same-sex marriage, but the issue is yet to appear in any party’s manifesto.
Lovpreet, who lives in Uttar Pradesh, believes that BJP is doing some good, like forming a trans advisory board last September.
“BJP is slowly moving towards being LGBTQ friendly, and if given the time and opportunity, it can do some good in the future,” said Lovpreet.
The Indian National Congress (INC), a leading central left-wing party, is also fielding its candidate in the state election, but the party does not see LGBTQ issues as important.
Dr. Shashi Tharoor, an MP and chair of All India Professionals Congress, the INC’s professional wing, refused multiple requests to speak on the legalization of same-sex marriage. The INC last week released its manifesto for the Uttar Pradesh election, but there were no promises for the LGBTQ community.
Former Defense Minister Jitendra Singh, an INC member who will set the party’s agenda ahead of the Uttar Pradesh election, also refused to speak about the legalization of same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ issues in the state and the country.
Ram Gopal Yadav, the leader of the left-wing socialist Samajwadi Party and the head of the Council of States (Rajya Sabha), the upper house of the Indian Parliament, in 2013 while speaking with the media explicitly said that homosexuality is “unethical and immoral.” But the Samajwadi Party has recently changed its tone regarding the community.
“With every aspect, whether it is farmers, whether it is women, whether it is children or the LGBTQ community, there will be continuous policy measures of the party that are progressive and liberal,” said Samajwadi Party spokesperson Ghanshyam Tiwari. “When the government is progressive and not bounded by dogma, then every issue related to any community has to be looked at in a manner that gives equal opportunity and be empathetic towards them. The more vulnerable the community is, the greater government needs to do,” he added further.
The Mayawati Prabhu Das-led Bahujan Samaj Party, a national party that is running in the Uttar Pradesh election, has emerged as an LGBTQ ally. The party, however, has not released its election manifesto and it is yet to be seen if it will include LGBTQ issues.
There is no political party in Uttar Pradesh or the country with significant LGBTQ representation.
Tiwari in a statement to the Washington Blade said there is no plan yet for the Samajwadi Party to field candidates from the community in the upcoming election, but the party can consider it for the upcoming parliamentary election.
“The central government is not decriminalizing same-sex marriage. They are looking at the conservative vote bank,” said Preeti Sharma Menon, a spokesperson of the Aam Aadmi Party.
Aam Admi Party is a national party in the country. The party had fielded candidates in previous Uttar Pradesh elections but had no significant luck.
“To appease conservative voters, the ruling party, the BJP, is not taking steps to legalize same-sex marriage,” Menon added further.
The Aam Aadmi Party in the previous parliamentary election had a trans candidate from Uttar Pradesh. The party has expressed its desire to field other candidates in the state’s election from the community.
The BJP is ruling both the country and the Uttar Pradesh with no intention to support or address LGBTQ issues.
Senior BJP leader Sudhir Mungantiwar from the state of Maharashtra last year made several homophobic comments in Parliament. The party did not punish him, nor did other political parties condemn his statements.
It is yet to be seen how this election impacts policies of different political parties for the LGBTQ community in the upcoming parliamentary election of the country.
Mohit Kumar (Ankush) is a freelance reporter who has covered different stories that include the 2020 election in the U.S. and women’s rights issues. He has also covered NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency and loves to help people. Mohit is on Twitter at @MohitKopinion and can be reached at [email protected].
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