June is Pride Month — and while it's certainly a time to celebrate and reflect on the progress made in LGBTQ rights and visibility over the last several decades, it's also a time to raise awareness about how greatly LGBTQ people are still threatened the world over. And unfortunately, 2017 hasn't exactly been a banner year for LGBTQ rights thus far. While Taiwan's forthcoming legalization of same-sex marriage marks a watershed moment for LGBTQ rights in Asia, there is a climate of rising oppression elsewhere. While greater LGBTQ representation in media and vigorous activism around the world may make many of us believe that LGBTQ rights are a settled issue, that's actually quite far from the truth — and threats to rights and wellbeing vary greatly depending on where in the world you're standing.
The world remains, on the whole, a place where LGBTQ people must fight constantly for personal rights, freedoms and acceptance. Even many highly publicized progressive moments don't actually yield much fruit when it comes to real advances in rights; for instance, while Pope Francis said in 2016 that gay people should be "accepted and embraced" by Catholics, he has still continued to advocate against teaching about LGBTQ issues in schools. Elsewhere in the world, religious beliefs and personal prejudice continue to make living life openly as an LGBTQ person difficult, and, in some cases, extremely dangerous. It's important that as we celebrate at Pride marches and drape ourselves in our best rainbow finery, we also take in the worldwide picture and make ourselves into activists as well as partiers.
So how can you help? Spread the word, stay aware, and donate to organizations that do work to help LGBTQ activists worldwide. The Human Rights Campaign often focuses on the US, while Amnesty International, the ILGA, Human Rights Watch and specific national organizations work in other countries to help fight discrimination and protect vulnerable LGBTQ people.
Chechnya: Gay Men Are Allegedly Persecuted & Tortured By The State
Among LGBTQ issues worldwide, the most pressing may be reports of ongoing persecution of gay men by the authorities in Chechnya. These reports have been officially denied by Chechneyan leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who has claimed that "In Chechen society, there is no such thing as nontraditional orientation...we have never had [LGBTQ people] among us Chechens," but an investigation conducted by Human Rights Watch reported that "police in Chechnya rounded up, beat, and humiliated dozens of gay or bisexual men in an apparent effort to purge them from Chechen society." Men who have fled tell horror stories of being detained and tortured, of neighbors and family members turned informants to the authorities, and of the high likelihood that several Chechnyan gay men have been killed as part of this persecution.
The reporter who revealed the situation and its extent (six prisons, and possibly more, are thought to be involved) has gone into hiding, activists have been arrested for attempting to deliver a petition condemning the persecution, and Chechnyan men are seeking refuge in other countries. (The new French President Emmanuel Macron has openly welcomed refugees fleeing the purge.) Those who have escaped describe their horrifying limbo: if they return and manage to evade the authorities, their own families may kill them instead. It is a horrifying reminder of the perilous state of gay rights outside of safe legal bubbles.
Indonesia: Raids On Gay Men Are Legally Permitted In Some Regions
As CNN reported, Indonesia has seen a rapid change in its attitudes towards LGBT people in the past 18 months, with a sudden rise in imprisonments and anti-gay violence. One of the most upsetting and widely reported incidents involved the public caning of two men allegedly caught having sex; the caning was staged in front of a crowd and filmed. The province of Aceh, in which the caning occurred, is one of the biggest flashpoints for violence in the area, with vigilantes empowered by the police to "raid" areas looking for gay men; these kinds of actions are permitted by local law. However, the capital of Jakarta is also seeing a big shift, with a recent raid arresting 114 men at a gay sauna.
United States: LGBTQ People Are Subject To National Rights Rollbacks & State-By-State Discrimination
Sadly, LGBTQ equality has become a partisan issue. Kudos to one Republican who is putting principle before party. https://t.co/SqQY8egMCp— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) May 31, 2017
Orange has never looked like a more dangerous part of the rainbow flag than with President Trump in charge. In the past few months, the Trump administration has reversed the Obama administration's guidelines allowing transgender students to use the bathrooms consistent with their gender, thrown out the Obama order protecting federal workers from being fired for their sexual orientation, and placed many long-time opponents of LGBTQ rights, like Mike Pence and Neil Gorsuch, in positions of power.
State protections of LGBTQ equality also remain strongly under threat. A bill called the Equality Act that would give federal-level protections against discrimination to all LGBTQ Americans is strongly supported — the Human Rights Campaign reports that it had "241 original cosponsors—the most congressional support that any piece of pro-LGBTQ legislation has received upon introduction" — but it's widely expected to falter and fail. LGBTQ people across dozens of states can still face firing, housing discrimination and other forms of prejudice without the law having anything to say about it.
China: An LGBTQ Event Was Cancelled, With Organizers Detained Under Questionable Circumstances
LGBT event in China cancelled after organisers detained and told: ‘you are not welcome’ https://t.co/ABduQPQ4ae— PinkNews (@PinkNews) May 31, 2017
In China, the news of Taiwan's LGBT rights victory brought hope to activists, and there have been some small triumphs — but it remains a problematic place for LGBTQ people in many ways.
Homosexuality was only removed from the nation's official list of psychological conditions in 2001, and he "conversion industry," where Chinese families pay for their children and relatives to be "converted to straightness" using occasionally brutal methods including beatings and electroshock therapy, is a huge business.
However, in the past decade or so, there have been some moves forward; some transgender celebrities have managed to make a splash in the media, and there's a rise in the number of LGBTQ discrimination cases being heard by courts, even if they don't win.
However, all is not well; a big LGBTQ event due to be held in Xi'an in May was cancelled and the nine organizers arrested under spurious charges. They were only let go after they gave up their mobile phones and the contact details of all the speakers at the event.
Nigeria: LGBTQ People Live With Threat Of Death Or Imprisonment
Nigeria is one of the world's most dangerous places to be gay. A 2017 report shows that 90 percent of the population supports making gay sex illegal, though there have been small improvements in people's attitudes towards LGBTQ access to public services and education. Anti-gay laws mean that gay people can be sentenced to punishments ranging from 14 years in prison to death by stoning. There is, according to Human Rights Watch, "widespread extortion, mob violence, arbitrary arrest, torture in detention, and physical and sexual violence" against the LGBTQ community in Nigeria, often by the authorities or with their complicity as mobs and gangs target LGBTQ individuals. In April, 53 people were arrested on the charge of attending a gay wedding, though they all claimed they were actually at a birthday party and were illegally detained for more than 24 hours.
Bangladesh: LGBTQ People Face Arrest, Harassment, Discrimination & Violent Attacks
Bangladesh’s LGBT Community Launches a Blog Commemorating Slain Activists · Global Voices https://t.co/arV1vKl3nF— Florian Linecker (@florianlinecker) May 26, 2017
2017 has been an extremely bad time for LGBTQ rights activists in Bangladesh. In what the Huffington Post called "a deliberate attempt to silence the LGBT community," 27 young men were arrested in the capital of Dhaka on the grounds of homosexuality this past May. It's added to a poisonous atmosphere of round-ups, mob violence and murder; activists and people attending LGBT marches have been arrested regularly, and just a month before the Dhaka arrests, in April, the founder of Bangladesh's only LGBTQ magazine was hacked to death by men posing as couriers, in a crime that may have been motivated by religious extremism.
Many activists, according to the Washington Post, have been forced into exile rather than endure continual harassment and the threat of life in prison — the official maximum punishment for homosexual acts ("carnal intercourse against the order of nature") under the country's law.
It's also a country where transgender people endure much discrimination. The Human Rights Watch points out that, despite the official recognition of a "third gender" in 2014 — hijras, or men who identify as women and are a strong part of ancient South Asian tradition — hijras themselves continue to face widespread discrimination, rejection by their families, and violence, including abusive physical examinations in hospitals.
Australia: A Sports Great Publicly Denounced LGBTQ People
In contrast to levels of violence that LGBTQ people are subjected to in many other areas, Australia's anti-LGBTQ struggles appear quite mild, but they're perfidious all the same. An attempt to have a non-binding vote in the Australian senate last year on whether or not to allow gay marriage (which, I've got to tell you as an Australian, the majority of our citizens support) was dogged by controversy for being weak and eventually shouted down.
And now the country is mired in another scandal after one of its greatest tennis legends, Margaret Court, publicly made anti-gay slurs and said that LGBTQ culture was corrupting the people "like Hitler and communism." The response from the tennis world has been swift and appalled, with everybody from Martina Navratilova to Andy Murray repudiating her comments. But the revelation has shown that even nations that appear progressive and tolerant are far from free of bigotry. No matter where you live, you should engage with the LGBTQ rights struggle in other countries — and realize that no matter how good things may seem at home, there is likely still work to do.