People exist in all shapes and sizes, from Ahmed to Zoe, from babies just minutes old, to people who have walked around the globe for 110 years or even more. Not one human is exactly the same as the other, and people not only differ in age, sex, culture, background, heritage, race, or religion, but also on sexual or gender orientation. Around the globe, people are being treated completely different based on their sexual or gender orientation. For instance, in the Islamic Republic of Iran, sexual activity by people of the same sex can be punishable by death, while in other countries legal challenges are almost non-existent. The following blog will take a look at the rights of LGBTQ+ people around the globe. Many different terms are used to refer to the LGBTQ+-community, ranging from LGBT to LGBTTTQQIAA, in this blog it was chosen to use the term “LGBTQ+,” which stands for lesbian, gay sexual, bisexual, transgender, queer, with adding a + for all other sexualities and gender identities that are not cisgender and/or heterosexual. These terms might be unknown to some, therefore, we would gladly explain them. Someone who is gay is attracted to the same gender, and therefore homosexual, while someone who is bisexual is attracted to two genders, mostly men and women. Lesbian people are in fact homosexuals as well, but lesbians are females being attracted to females. Someone who is transgender is born with a gender they do not identify with, while someone who is cisgender is born in the gender they also identify with. Queer functions as an umbrella term, standing for all sexualities or gender identities that are not straight or cisgender. Lastly, the + is added for everyone who does not identify within one of the previous categories.
Whatever your background and future is, this is a trigger warning. We tried to approach the topic as neutral as possible, looking at different legal situations of LGBTQ+ people in some countries. Unfortunately, this ultimately forces us to address stories of violence and oppression. If you do not feel comfortable being left alone with these pictures and information, please trust a friend and share your thoughts. As a matter of fact, we also faced some personal hardships while writing this blog.
It can be quite difficult to judge countries on their rights of LGBTQ+ people, since countries differ so much and there are a lot of categories to look at. For instance, in Turkey sexual activity between same-sex partners is not illegal, but LGBTQ+ people are banned from serving in the military. Another example are the rights in the United States, where LGBTQ+ people can marry, adopt children, and legally participate in sexual activity, also laws are in place that ban discrimination based on sexual and gender identity in the workplace. However, since 2019 transgender people are banned from the military. (BBC, 2019) Also, having certain rights does not mean countries do not have homophobia or transphobia, as this goes often unnoticed by law.
Russia and Chechnya
Since there are more than 190 countries and territories in the world, it is impossible to look at all of them within one blog. We have chosen to look at two countries specifically, which are both in Europe. The first country is Russia, a country in which LGBTQ+ rights are low, and these people need to be careful. A broad look will be taken at Chechnya, where LGBTQ+ are fearing for their lives. Later, a look will be taken at Malta, a country that scores as one of the best in the world when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights.
In Russia, LGBTQ+ people cannot marry, cannot adopt, cannot serve in the military openly and no laws exist prohibiting discrimination. However, transgender people can change their gender. An extreme of anti-LGBTQ+ behaviour is present in the Chechen Republic, which is part of the Russian Federation. According to Amnesty International (2019), Chechen authorities are imprisoning LGBTQ+ people to torture them, which already caused two people to die. There are reports that passports of these people have been destroyed in order to ensure these people could not flee the country. This prosecution of LGBTQ+ people were preceded by what many called an anti-gay purge in 2017 and 2018. The International Business Times (2017) reported that LGBTQ+ people were detained in concentration camps, which is the first report of concentration camps in Europe after the camps of the Nazis. In these camps, LGBTQ+ people were tortured and, in some cases died.
LGBTQ+ people in the Chechen Republic are also in danger of honour killings. (Human Rights Watch, 2017) These honour killings are when someone is murdered by their relatives for being LGBTQ+, because this family is ‘saving its honour’ by killing their LGBTQ+ relatives. Chechen officials stated that these allegations were lies and that gay people do not exist in Chechnya. The following statement was made by a press secretary of the Chechen government: “If there were such people in Chechnya, law-enforcement agencies wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning,” which is a reference to the horrible honour killings.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights responded to these anti-gay purges by condemning the actions and statements of Chechen authorities, urging the Russian authorities to release people who were detained illegally. (OHCHR, 2017) In Europe, IGOs can do little to pressure Russia into changing the situation. Russia signed the European Convention for Human Rights, so it is mandatory to follow the rules included. However, this convention was made through the Council of Europe, which should not be confused with the European Council or Council of the European Union, which are both institution of the EU, which the Council of Europe is not. The Council of Europe can do little to enforce its convention, except for recommending actions and issuing judgments. (Out, 2019)
The European Parliament (EP) condemned the actions by Russia in a resolution on May 18th, 2017. The EP urged the authorities in Chechnya to uphold the human rights standards, calling to release everyone who were unlawfully detained. (European Parliament, 2017) Furthermore, this resolution is calling upon the member states of the European Union to support victims and refugees of the anti-gay purges by accepting asylum-requests of these people. However, four months after the resolution was accepted, EUobserver (2017) reported that only four member states of the European Union were willing to work with the Russian LGBT Network, the NGO that has been hiding LGBTQ+ people in Russia that is seeking asylum for these people.
Avoiding holding hands in public to prevent becoming a target of insults, jokes – and violence. This is the reality for the majority of LGBTQ+s. A survey published at the conference on LGBTQ+ rights across Europe initiated by Malta in 2017, might have been an eye-opener to one or another: 47% of LGBTQ+ people experienced discrimination in the previous year, and only 10% of those reported it to the authorities.
The conference host – Malta – embodies a European exception. The small island in the Mediterranean Sea is a big forerunner in terms of equality for the LGBTQ+ community. And Malta runs fast! From the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1973 to earning a first place in the Rainbow Europe’s league, for warranting the LGBTQ+ community 88 % of total rights. One can legally change ones’ gender. No matter the sexual orientation or gender identity, one is permitted to serve the military. The age of consent of anal sex and heterosexual coitus has been equalized, same-sex couples can marry AND adopt children. Discrimination is constitutionally prohibited and led not only to equality in housing and employment interviews, but a general ban of discrimination in the Maltese society. Phenomenally, we are talking about a catholic country, that elected a transgender politician in 2013.
Well, not every individual of all generations might be in favour of the tolerance, and the country is not progressive (in western terms) in all its political decisions: abortion is still considered a crime offence, and divorce has only been permitted since 2001. But the times they are a-changing, right Bob? Every member of a discriminated group knows: this change doesn’t just appear out of nowhere. People all over the world fight for equality, a representation in their constitution and a public voice. Malta’s minister for civil rights, Helena Dalli, urged politicians all over the world to “help shaping public opinion, not only to be led by it”. She pointed out, that Malta has been lagging behind in LGBTQ+ rights, but quickly caught up by leading an open discussion and frequently addressing changes for liberalization in national law. Overall, for now, the queer community enjoys more freedom, safety and legal acknowledgement in Malta than in any other corner of the world. While the equality index of Canada’s constitution is rated as high as the Maltese constitution, the legal status of conversion therapy still varies by region. Malta in contrast became the first European country that deemed conversion therapies as unlawful in 2016. This questionable method will be explained in the following section.
We saw that Malta was the first country to ban conversion therapy, so it is about high time to look at what this dangerous activity is. Conversion therapy is aimed at LGBTQ+ youth and tries to change the sexual orientation or gender identity through psychological, physical, or religious therapy. These sorts of therapy are proven to be unsuccessful and have been rejected by mental and medical health institutions. (HRC, n.d.) Conversion therapy may lead youth to become depressed, receptive to drug and alcohol use, to become homeless, or to commit suicide. Worldwide, the only countries banning these types of therapy nationwide are Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Ecuador, Malta, and Germany. In the United States, Canada, and Australia, conversion therapy is banned in some states or provinces. Other countries, like the Netherlands have laws pending on the ban on conversion therapy.
A Dutch newspaper, Trouw, reported that in the Netherlands, approximately 15 people or organisations are active in conversion therapy. (Trouw, 2020) This was announced by the Dutch minister of Health, Welfare, and Sport Hugo de Jonge after the House of Representatives requested research into conversion therapy. From the research it turned out that LGBTQ+ youth from orthodox-Christian communities feel pressured to undergo such therapies. However, most of these youth seemed to have undergone this out of own initiative. Several parties in the Dutch House of Representatives are making plans in banning conversion therapy in the future.
In 2014, the magazine Time reports the story of James Guay, who has been in conversion therapy when he was 16. James was raised in Los Angeles, USA, in a household and community with strong Christian believes. Being gay was comparable to the worst sins, like murder, rape, and child abuse. Because of the bullying, James often thought about committing suicide, the only thing keeping him from that was the fear of facing worse conditions after death, as he was taught that he would face eternal punishment in hell. At age 16, James told his parents of his same-sex attraction after which they told him they wanted to help him to cure this.
He was sent to conversion therapy where he was told to behave more masculine and date girls. He had to learn from books and audiotapes that taught him that the gay lifestyle would cause diseases and misery. After four years, James figured that the therapy did not work for him and he left. After being kicked out by his parents, he started seeing a psychotherapist that helped him to get rid of the shame of himself and his self-harming behaviour. Now, James Guay works as a psychologist and helps LGBTQ+ people with recovering from homophobic environments. (Time, 2014)
Binary is fiction
LGBTQ+ history is as ancient as human history, dating back to prehistorical times. Evidence about same-sex love can be found in every culture ever to be heard of. If there hadn’t been homosexual ‘incidents’, Christians wouldn’t have forbidden it in the Bible, right? In Ancient Greece, society didn’t even make an effort to prohibit homosexuality – it was just fine to enjoy oneself with whomever you were attracted to – well, at least within your level of the social hierarchy. On the American continent, Native Americans coined the term “Two-Spirit”, and ancient texts speak of “female husbands” in Kenya – so obviously there is no need to clamp on a binary, heterosexual cage.
So how do we come to an end talking about a movement rising and thriving in different places and paces around the world? The struggles to reach freedom have always been and still are present in every country but might differ in its forms. In some areas, religious traditions and beliefs might challenge the movement, in others social constructs put a spoke in the wheels of progress. Most of all, legal circumstances shape their extend of freedom. People have always spoken out about injustices and screamed for equality. It is impossible to picture every legend, appreciate every achievement and recognize every legal change in every corner of the world within this blog.
After researching and writing this blog, we have found quite some information that can be very important. If you are part of the LGBTQ+ community, be careful with where you travel to. Sadly, the world is not equal, and it is not expected to be that soon. Are you having no choice and do you have to go to Chechnya? Make sure your friends and family know about your plans and be safe! If you really want to go to Malta? Just go ahead! Sadly, the song of Macklemore was right “no freedom ‘till we’re equal, damn right I support it.”
https://www.history.com/topics/gay-rights/history-of-gay-rights#section_6 Page Break
Schott, L. (2016) Gay Awareness: Discovering the Heart of the Father and the Mind of Christ on Sexuality. Famous Pub
Hubbard, T. K. (2020). Historical Views of Homosexuality: Ancient Greece. In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics.