A Grudging Admission of Progress in 2020

A Grudging Admission of Progress in 2020

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I’m sure I’m not the only one who is thrilled to be seeing the back of 2020. This has been a challenging year, in ways previously unimaginable. We lost the ability to travel, to spend time with friends, to hug our loved ones. In some places, we couldn’t even stock up on food or go for a walk without special permission. Everyday life was changed beyond recognition, bringing in a new reality.

For LGBTIQ communities across the world this has been an especially trying time. LGBTIQ people everywhere were hit especially hard by COVID-19 and the surrounding containment measures. We suffered disproportionately from a devastation of livelihood, rising domestic violence levels, isolation, and scapegoating for the crisis. Moreover, an inability to connect with chosen family and community amplified the effects even further.

But as we near the end of this difficult year, I don’t want to focus on the challenges. I want to highlight some of the successes which, albeit few, were important and are worth celebrating as we ring in the new year.

No Pride Without Racial Justice

Cities across the US and the world erupted in protests against racism, anti-blackness and police brutality in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. I was reminded of the beginnings of our own movement – Pride also started as a protest, as a riot against police brutality – and the inextricable link between the movement for LGBTIQ equality and other social justice movements. We are never just one thing. Black lives matter. Black women’s lives matter. Black trans lives matter. And they will not be silenced.

Decriminalization continues!

In early December Bhutan decriminalized same-sex relations. Both houses of parliament voted in favor of amending the Penal Code which criminalized “unnatural sex”, adding a clarification that “homosexuality between adults shall not be considered unnatural sex.” Local activists celebrated, because not only did the amendment decriminalize same-sex relations, but by specifically mentioning homosexuality it also acknowledged the existence of LGBTIQ people in Bhutan. In July 2020 the Senate of Gabon voted to reverse criminalization of same-sex relations which had been introduced 2019. These developments bring the number of countries which continue to criminalize same-sex relations to 66 – which is still too many, but it is steadily decreasing.

Supreme Court Win in the US

In June the Supreme Court of the US, despite a conservative majority, ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits workplace discrimination, applies to cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The decision came at a time when the Trump administration has been viciously attacking the rights of LGBTIQ people, in particular trans people. It will protect millions of Americans from discrimination in the workplace, and sends a powerful message – that political power-play cannot erase basic human rights. The judgment will also have implications for LGBTIQ people everywhere, because governments and movements are inspired by each other, and landmark judgments are quoted by courts across the world.

So-Called Conversion Therapy Under Attack

In May the German Bundestag (Parliament) passed a bill banning advertising and perpetration of “conversion therapy” to minors thus joining Malta, Ecuador, Brazil and Taiwan to become only the 5th country in the world to ban sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts. A nationwide ban is pending in Canada. A local ban was also passed in Queensland, Australia, and one is pending in Victoria. In June, the UN Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity issued a report on the practices, and called for a global ban.

So-called conversion therapy efforts are based on the belief that cis-gender heterosexuality is the norm, and transgender identities and same-sex attraction not only fall outside the norm, but have to be changed, if need be by brutal, inhuman force. It is encouraging and important to see ever more places ban the harmful practices!

Growth of Virtual Communities

LGBTIQ movements have always been creative and resilient. In some ways, we have no choice. Those seeking to oppose our human rights, to prevent us from being visible, from being ourselves, are many. They are well-funded, well-connected and very strategic. So we have to be ever-vigilant and creative in standing up to them. We did the same this year with the pandemic amplifying the vulnerabilities we already face. Pride events may not have taken place in the streets, but they took place all over the internet, including in places where our identities are criminalized. We moved support groups, community dinners, concerts, everything – on line. And while I can’t wait to be able to meet in person, I have to admit that the way we had to work this year enabled connections which would not have been possible otherwise. Just the other week, OutRight’s annual conference, OutSummit, was attended by over 1600 people from over 100 countries – four times as many as the physical conference had in its biggest year.

Our movement was hit hard this year. But, in some ways, it also thrived.

Here’s to more togetherness, more progress, more celebration in 2021. A very queer new year to all of you!

Paul Jansen is the Senior Advisor for Global Advocacy, Outright Action International

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