2019: 10 Headline LGBT Stories

Millions of people joined Pride marches around the world in 2019, and LGBT rights were increasingly in the spotlight, with some countries legalising gay marriage, while others mulled the death penalty for same-sex relations.

The year also marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots against police brutality in New York City, which triggered the modern movement for LGBT+ rights in Western countries.

Here are 10 stories from a year of change for many LGBT+ people around the world:

1. Brunei and Uganda death penalty for same-sex intimacy

In March it was revealed that the small East Asian country of Brunei was planning to implement changes to its Islamic penal code that would impose death by stoning for same-sex intimacy.

After a global backlash, with businesses and celebrities, such as George Clooney and Elton John, boycotting companies owned by Brunei, the sultanate announced in May that a moratorium on the death penalty would be extended.

In October a Ugandan minister said the east African nation was planning to reintroduce [an anti-gay bill]. The government denied that the death penalty would be imposed for [same-sex relations] following an international outcry.

2. Gabon criminalises [same-sex relations]

In July, the central African nation of Gabon banned “sexual relations between people of the same sex”, introducing a penalty of up to six months in prison and a fine of 5 million CFA francs ($8,482).

The change was not widely reported until later in the year, but an activist who monitors LGBT+ rights in West Africa said he had spoken to two Gabonese men arrested under the new law, who had to bribe police to be released.

3. Kenya upholds [anti-gay] ban

Kenya’s High Court upheld a British colonial-era law criminalising [same-sex relations] by up to 14 years in gaol, in May, throwing out a petition by LGBT+ campaigners on the grounds that same-sex relations clashed with traditional moral values.

Advocates said the law promoted homophobia in the socially conservative and religious East African nation, and violated constitutional rights to privacy, equality and dignity. They are appealing the ruling.

4. Botswana legalises same-sex relations

In June, Botswana legalised same-sex relations when the High Court overturned a colonial-era law that had punished consensual [same-sex relations] by up to seven years in prison.

“Discrimination has no place in this world,” Justice Michael Leburu said in his ruling, which followed previous judgments in the southern African country, that had recognised the right of LGBT+ people to equal protection before the law.

5. Same-sex marriage spreads

Taiwan became the first place in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage in May, despite two-thirds of people voting in a referendum, in November 2018, to retain the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

The self-ruled island was followed by Ecuador in June, with the South American nation becoming the 27th country in the world to allow gay and lesbian couples to wed.

The following month, the British parliament voted to extend same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland.

6. Trump’s transgender military ban goes into effect

The United States implemented a law in April that banned openly trans people from enlisting in the military, with President Donald Trump stating that trans service members would cause “tremendous medical costs and disruption”.

It reversed a policy of Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama.

7. Brazil’s top court rules homophobia is a crime

In May, Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled that homophobia and transphobia were crimes, under existing anti-discrimination laws in the South American country. This outlawed violence against LGBT+ people and made it illegal to deny them access to education, jobs, shops, and public buildings.

The ruling came after President Jair Bolsonaro, a self-proclaimed ‘proud homophobe’, removed LGBT+ responsibilities from the human rights ministry after taking office in January.

8. LGBT-free zones spread in Poland

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party, in campaigns for the European Union elections in May and national elections in October, depicted ‘LGBT ideology’ as foreign ideas that undermined traditional values.

While Warsaw’s mayor signed a pro-LGBT+ declaration in February, dozens of towns – mostly in conservative, rural Poland – declared themselves ‘LGBT free’, and Pride marches in some cities were attacked by protesters.

9. Georgia Pride marchers defy far-right threats

While millions marched in global Pride celebrations, marking the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising this summer, in Tbilisi, Georgia, LGBT+ people and their allies had to scale down their parade amid far-right threats.

In November, the premiere of a film about gay love in the country was attacked by violent ultra-nationalist demonstrators, more than 25 of whom were arrested.

10. ‘Conversion therapy’ bans spread

Germany’s cabinet in December backed a law that would ban so-called conversion therapy for minors, as a global movement to end discredited practices, that aim to change someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation, gathered pace.

Conversion therapy, which has been widely condemned by medical associations around the world as ineffective and detrimental to mental health, is illegal in Malta, Ecuador, Brazil, and Taiwan.

-Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage – Thomson Reuters Foundation

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