Pride and Prejudice: A year in Review

In the effort to advance the human rights of LGBT people, there have been important victories over the last year. But there have also been tragic reminders that in many parts of the world LGBT people remain among the most vulnerable of groups. As LGBT Pride month comes to a close, here are some of the highlights and lowlights.

The IOC – In the wake of the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had a black eye. President Vladimir Putin had signed the federal law banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” into law the summer before, violating the spirit, if not the letter, of the Olympic code on nondiscrimination, Principle 6. Beginning this past summer, the IOC began to ensure that the Games are not party to legalized homophobia by including a commitment to non-discrimination with regard to sexual orientation to host-city contracts. The following December, the IOC went all in, and formally added sexual orientation to Principle 6, answering the pleas of countless international advocates and athletes.

Kazakhstan – On May 26th, 2015, Kazakhstan’s Constitutional Council announced that pending legislation regarding “propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientation,” which would have emulated the infamous Russian law, was unconstitutional. Activists suspected that Kazakhstan’s bid to host the Winter Olympics in 2022, and the IOC’s recent inclusion of sexual orientation within its non-discrimination clause, played a role in the bill’s rejection. However, some Parliamentarians have indicated that the bill will be reintroduced in the fall session. For the time being, however, the ruling is a glimmer of hope.

Kyrgyzstan – On June 8, 2015, Kyrgyzstan’s Minister of Justice announced her opposition to a LGBT anti-propaganda bill even more severe than Russia’s law; this bill includes the possibility of jail time for those convicted. Despite the Minister’s statement, the bill remains under consideration in the Kyrgyz Parliament, recently passing the second of three required readings. It’s unclear if Kyrgyz President Almazabek Atambayev would sign the bill if it makes it through the legislative process.

Special Envoy – In February 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry appointed veteran U.S. diplomat Randy Berry America’s first “Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons.” The post will ensure that the United States places the human rights of LGBT people at the heart of U.S. foreign policy, by cultivating relationships with LGBT activists globally and responding to acts of discrimination and violence against LGBT people. Since his appointment, Berry has paid a visit to Jamaica, a troubling hotspot of bias-motivated violence, and a host of countries throughout the Americas. He is set to visit Uganda in July, less than a year after the repeal of the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Jamaica – Jamaica remains a focus of concern for the international human rights community. Despite its reputation as a world-renowned tourist destination, the Jamaican LGBT community is extremely vulnerable to acts of violence and discrimination. While giving an address at a town hall meeting in Kingston, President Obama took time to praise prominent Jamaican LGBT rights advocate Angeline Jackson, executive director of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, a group that advocates on behalf of lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender Jamaicans. He also made firm commitments towards furthering the cause of LGBT rights on the island, saying “progress comes not by holding down any segment of society, but by holding up the rights of every human being, regardless of what we look like or how we pray or who we love.”

EuroPride – On June 20th, 2015, over 5,000 people participated in EuroPride 15 in Riga, Latvia. It marked the first time the preeminent European gay pride event was held in a former Soviet country. The celebration proceeded in the face of attempts by a homophobic group to block its occurrence through the courts. A planned counter-demonstration with anti-LGBT messages mustered only about 30 people and resulted in several arrests.

Ireland – In late May 2015, some 62% of the Irish electorate voted to legalize same-sex marriage, making it the first country in the world to do so by a popular vote. Heavy turnout among young voters and surprising support in rural areas caused a landslide win in the famously Catholic country.

Uganda – In August 2014, Uganda’s Constitutional Court declared the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which mandated life imprisonment for those convicted of so-called “aggravated homosexuality”, unconstitutional. Officially, the law was overturned on a technicality, the speaker of the Ugandan Parliament had pushed a vote on the bill without a required quorum. However, many suspect the decision was made following international pressure, which included cuts to foreign aid and visa restrictions from the United States.

Gambia – In May 2015, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh gave a shocking diatribe against LGBT people: “[I]f you do it [in Gambia] I will slit your throat. If you are a man and want to marry another man in this country and we catch you, no one will ever set eyes on you again, and no white person can do anything about it.” The Gambian leader is notorious for his homophobia and outright violations of human rights, both of which were the cause of the EU’s 2014 cut to aid for the West African nation. A statement from U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice called the comments “unconscionable” and indicative of the “alarming deterioration of the broader human rights situation” in Gambia.

Social Media in the Middle East – Authorities in several countries in the Middle East have begun to scour personal information posted on the Internet and social media in order to further crack down on LGBT people. Worse yet, the same authorities have begun to entrap members of the LGBT community through these virtual platforms, in order to prosecute them under so-called “debauchery” or “morality” laws. A man in Saudi Arabia was given 450 lashes and three years in jail for tweeting about being gay, and the government of Egypt has made arrests based on discussions of LGBT activity on Facebook, YouTube, and hookup apps like Grindr. In a recent case, an Egyptian journalist collaborated with police in the arrest of 26 men. Fortunately the men were cleared of charges, but not before they were made vulnerable to acts of bias-motivated violence and discrimination.

Russia’s Legislative Homophobia – In May 2015, Vladimir Putin signed a new bill into law allowing prosecutors to ban “undesirable” foreign and international organizations from operating in Russia. The law is yet another tool that could be used to clamp down on civil society and complements a previous law regulating so-called “foreign agents.” The law could be used to target organizations that work to further LGBT rights within the country. Russia’s most infamous homophobic law, the ban on “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” remains in effect and was used to target prominent social media haven for Russian LGBT youth, Children-404.

Brunei –Although adopted over one year ago, a new penal code based on Islamic Sharia law is in the process of being phased in. The third and final phase, which is expected to be complete by the end of 2015, includes a provision calling for death by stoning for individuals convicted of same-sex acts. Brunei will be one of nearly a dozen nations where homosexuality may be punishable by death.

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Published on June 29, 2015

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