The Year in Review: Progress or Setback for LGBTIQ Equality in 2021?

The Year in Review: Progress or Setback for LGBTIQ Equality in 2021?

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After the hardships endured by practically everyone in 2020, we had high hopes for 2021. Alas, this year has not been easy either. 2021 has been marked by efforts at recovery and rebuilding, and a return to some semblance of normalcy in many parts of the world. But for the global LGBTIQ community, elements of progress and recognition of our human rights were overshadowed by numerous attacks on our rights and continuing amplified effects of the pandemic. Still, despite the challenges, we were able to achieve numerous important wins. 

While in North and South America and across Europe access to COVID vaccines became readily available during 2021, the same was not true in other parts of the world. Moreover, access is always most challenging to those who are most marginalized, including LGBTIQ people. As such, for big parts of our global community, a return to some semblance of normalcy remains something to strive towards, and the livelihoods of LGBTIQ people continue to be devastated by the pandemic. 

In addition to amplified vulnerabilities due to the pandemic, 2021 also saw a plethora of attempts made by governments to further target, criminalize, and restrict the rights of LGBTIQ individuals. In October, for example, Ghana’s parliament began considering a bill that not only enhances existing laws criminalizing same-sex relations, but will also make advocacy for the rights of LGBTIQ people a crime. In Uganda, where the country’s penal code already prescribes up to life in prison for same-sex relations, the parliament passed a Sexual Offenses Bill reiterating criminalization and painting LGBTQ people as sexual offenders. Fortunately, the bill was rejected by Uganda’s president as redundant due to the existing penal code.

In Indonesia, local anti-LGBTIQ bylaws were ratified across the country, inciting vigilante violence against LGBTIQ people. In late October, the Polish parliament introduced a “Stop LGBT” bill that would officially ban Pride marches and other LGBTIQ gatherings. In May, Hungary passed a law that barred trans and intersex people from legally changing their gender, and later in the year introduced a bill similar to Russia’s infamous anti-gay propaganda law. 

Such laws not only remove legal protections for LGBTIQ people, they also give the green light for violence and discrimination. In Ghana, activists reported an unprecedented wave of violence last year, including an attack on a newly established LGBTIQ center. In the Aceh province of Indonesia, a mob of citizens caught and detained two gay men, who then received public flogging. In Poland, attacks on Pride and other LGBTIQ events have been on the rise. 

Unfortunately LGBTIQ people are not strangers to legal restrictions and attacks on our humanity. Our communities have been used as pawns in political power struggles for a long time, we’ve been scapegoated, demonized and positioned as a threat to society, as well as being targeted by religious leaders seeking to control social norms and expectations.

As such, our communities are resilient and creative in the face of adversity, and in 2021 this showed in numerous notable wins. 

In July, Argentina allowed for a third-gender demarcation across all official documents. In October the United States partially followed suit and issued the first-ever passport with a third-gender marker (“X”). Both developments set an important precedent in recognition of the existence of nonbinary people, and are an important development for trans and intersex people who don’t identify as male or female. In November the Court of Appeals in Botswana upheld a 2019 High Court Ruling which decriminalized same-sex relations, thus ending the state’s attempts to maintain the outdated, colonial laws. And at the very end of the year Chile’s congress endorsed equal marriage, and Canada and France became only the sixth and seventh countries in the world to ban so-called conversion therapy.  

Furthermore, there were also developments on the global level. In November the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on access to elections explicitly mentioning barriers related to an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This is important because it was only the second General Assembly resolution to ever mention sexual orientation and gender identity explicitly, it represents a global recognition of barriers experienced by LGBTIQ people, and presents an important advocacy tool which activists can use to push for further progress at home. 

So what do we take away from this? Advocating for LGBTIQ equality isn’t easy. And progress isn’t linear — notable wins are overshadowed by devastating setbacks. Our community is historically one of the most overlooked and scapegoated, and to this day 68 countries continue to criminalize same-sex relations. We still have so much to keep fighting for. But progress IS happening. Every year. As we enter a new calendar year, let’s reflect on what we can learn from last year’s setbacks, celebrate the wins, and get ready for a continued fight in 2022.

Andrew Schlager is the Development and Communications Assistant of OutRight Action International.

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