The journey towards achieving LGBTQ+ rights

Imagine a world where love is illegal. A world where you could be executed for simply being in a relationship with someone. This is the reality for LGBTQ+ people, also known as GSRM (Gender, Sexuality, Romantic Minority), as the death penalty can be issued for homosexuality in twelve countries, six of which are known to be actively executing gay people.

Being LGBTQ+ is illegal in 70 UN member states according to the ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association). Even in countries where it is legal to be LGBTQ+, many LGBTQ+ people are discriminated against in the workforce, in adoption agencies, in religious organisations, etc. Many LGBTQ+ youth are disowned and become homeless after coming out to their parents as LGBTQ+, and they often can’t go to homeless shelters and other services as these services are often unprepared to handle LGBTQ+ youth, which can lead to experiences of homophobia and transphobia, especially from shelters which have a religious affiliation. Many LGBTQ+ also experience homophobia from their peers in school, according to the Stonewall 2017 School Report, 45% of LGBTQ+ students in Britain have been bullied, with 64% of transgender students being bullied. The suicide rate among LGBTQ+ youth is also significantly higher than their heterosexual counterparts. According to a 2015 study from the CDC, 42.8% of LGBTQ+ students in grades 9-12 (years 10-13) in the US, have seriously considered attempting suicide, compared to 14.8% of heterosexual students, and a 2015 survey from the National Center For Transgender Equality (NCTE) found that around 40% of transgender adults had reported attempting suicide. Since the suicide rates of LGBTQ+ people are so high, the prospect of LGBTQ+ rights becomes a much more important issue worldwide. The lives of many people could be in danger without them.

Fortunately, there has been a lot of progress towards achieving LGBTQ+ rights in the last few decades. According to the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Intersex Association’s (ILGA) State-Sponsored Homophobia 2007 report, same-sex relationships were criminalised in 85 UN member states in 2007, whilst today that number has been reduced to 70 countries. Although this is still a large number, it does show that progress has been made. 28 of the countries where homosexuality has been legalised have also legalised same-sex marriage. Already this year, Northern Ireland has legalised same-sex marriage after a high profile campaign for change. Also this year, Costa Rica is expected to legalise same-sex marriage in May. In 2019, Ecuador, Taiwan and Austria all legalised same-sex marriage. With more and more countries legalising same-sex marriage there should be more acceptance for LGBTQ+ people around the world.

For transgender and non-binary people, the goal of achieving equal rights has been especially difficult, however, progress is definitely being made. A common cause of transphobia and enbyphobia (irrational fear or hatred towards non-binary people) is the idea that biological sex and gender are the same, and that there are only two genders. This is frequently what people are taught in school and at home, however current research, though still in its infancy, has shown that this idea is false. Several studies, such as a study in 2018 by Dr Julie Bakker from the University of Liège, Belgium, have found that the brains of transgender people are more similar to the brains of cisgender people of their gender identity than those of their biological sex. Evidence of transgender and non-binary people has been found dating back to Mesopotamia, which shows that transgender people and non-binary people are not new to modern society.

There is some good news as some countries have started to acknowledge the rights of transgender and non-binary people. In 2003, Japan passed a law allowing transgender people to change their gender as long as they meet certain criteria. This criterion is rather strict, however, it was a large step towards achieving legal recognition and equal rights for transgender people. Currently, 30 countries in Europe allow transgender people to change their gender identity on legal documents. Only a few countries allow non-binary people to change their gender identity. These countries include Canada, Denmark, and India. A few more countries, such as Germany, allow alternative genders for intersex people on birth certificates.

Progress has been made quite rapidly to achieve equality for LGBTQ+ people in some countries. However, there are still places where efforts to achieve equal rights are being denied and governments are regressing. This is happening under the Trump administration in the USA. Several protections for LGBTQ+ people were dismantled despite Trump saying that he would protect the rights of LGBTQ+ people. These protections included workplace protections, protections against discrimination in health care, and protections that gave transgender people the right to reside in homeless shelters according to their gender identity. In Uganda, a bill dubbed ‘Kill the Gays’ was presented which would impose the death penalty on homosexuality. This bill was passed in 2013 but was made invalid in 2014 by the constitutional court. Despite this, some media outlets believe the bill could easily come back.

With progress going backwards in some places, it is sensible to wonder what arguments are being used to allow such discrimination. Many of the groups that have been discriminating against LGBTQ+ people have been religiously affiliated and a common reason cited for reducing LGBTQ+ protections is the right to religious freedom with many of these groups claiming that protections for LGBTQ+ people would go against their beliefs. The right to religious freedom is definitely important, however, I don’t think any group’s rights should be used as an excuse for infringing on the rights of others. Especially to the point at which it can restrict access to welfare and healthcare, which could cost lives, especially with the AIDS epidemic.

What can you do to help support LGBTQ+ people

There is likely someone in your life that is LGBTQ+, whether you know it or not. If they come out to you as LGBTQ+, you could help them by being supportive and accepting of it. If they come out as transgender or non-binary, make sure to call them by their prefered name and pronouns. If you are not sure what someone’s prefered pronouns are, just ask. Adjusting to the needs of LGBTQ+ people around you is not difficult, despite what many, typically right-wing political groups might lead you to believe. I would also recommend educating yourself on LGBTQ+ issues around the world. Many schools don’t discussLGBTQ+ issues, and this lack of education is likely the cause of some homophobia and transphobia. When you get the ability to vote, try to vote for people who will at least protect, if not expand, LGBTQ+ rights. Here at Nations, we have a relatively safe atmosphere for LGBTQ+ people, however it is still important that we remain accepting and supportive towards them and we stand up against any homophobia and transphobia that may appear.

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