In contrast to 2015’s largely upbeat report on the state of LGBTQ equality worldwide, the news in 2016 was more somber. While there were significant advances, such as the advent of marriage equality in Colombia and the creation of senior LGBTQ watchdog positions at the United Nations and the World Bank, the disturbing persistence of violence targeting vulnerable LGBTQ people around the world was a continuing cause for serious concern. Growing political backlash against LGBTQ rights in Latin America and Southeast Asia, a resurgence in the activities of American exporters of hate and the stunning November victory of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential elections were other developments that could bode ill for global LGBTQ rights as we move into 2017.
2016 saw major legal momentum on achieving LGBTQ equal rights and protections. The number of countries that continue to criminalize consenting adult same-sex relations fell from 75 to 72. Three countries – Belize in Central America, Nauru in Oceania and Seychelles in East Africa – decriminalized same-sex acts in the span of just four months. The case of Belize was especially remarkable as noted activist Caleb Orozco fought in court for six years to overturn the country’s antiquated sodomy law. The march towards marriage equality continued in 2016, albeit at a slower rate than before. Colombia achieved marriage equality in April through a court decision, making it the twentieth country in the world with full marriage equality. Efforts continue elsewhere to achieve marriage equality, most notably in Australia, Chile and Taiwan. Transgender people also saw incremental progress in many parts of the world and a progressive gender identity law was enacted in Bolivia in September.
In Latin America, Europe and North America, LGBTQ people continued to win at the ballot box and hold high level political positions. The first openly transgender person was elected to Congress in the Philippines and a pro-equality candidate took office as Taiwan’s first female president. In the sporting world, a record number of out LGBTQ athletes participated in the Rio Olympics against a backdrop of rising anti-LGBTQ violence in Brazil.
Evolving Global Consensus on Equality
International organizations took critical steps to advance equality this year by mainstreaming LGBTQ rights and issues into their policies and practices. They had support from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. The U.N. Human Rights Council created the position of an independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Vitit Muntarbhorn, a distinguished Thai law professor, was selected to serve in this role. The World Bank also continued pro-LGBTQ efforts with the creation of an LGBTQ office and the appointment of Clifton Cortez, an American lawyer and longtime development practitioner, as its first-ever SOGI Advisor. The United States remained the only country in 2016 to have a senior government official – the Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons — dedicated to the protection of global LGBTQ rights.
Persistent and Deadly Violence
LGBTQ people and communities faced grave risks and deadly violence throughout the year in every region of the world. Transgender people are especially vulnerable. On average, at least 200 transgender people are killed around the world each year. 2016 was a particularly brutal year for LGBTQ people. Forty-nine LGBTQ people and allies were murdered at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando by an ISIL-inspired gunman in June, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. In Bangladesh, Roopbaan LGBTQ magazine founder Xulhaz Mannan and a colleague were hacked to death by extremists in April. LGBTQ activist Rene Martinez was kidnapped and murdered in Honduras in June and transgender activist Hande Kader was also kidnapped and murdered in Turkey in August. Brutal executions of gay men by ISIL in Iraq and Syria continued.
Backlash to Progress
Rising anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and actions by government and religious leaders in 2016 contributed to insecurity and fear among LGBTQ communities. In previously tolerant countries like Indonesia which has the world’s largest Muslim population, senior government ministers and the largest religious organization both vehemently denounced LGBTQ people. Activists were arrested at a Uganda Pride event in Kampala in August and Istanbul Pride was shut down by the Turkish government in June. In Latin America there has been a rising backlash against the LGBTQ community’s rapid legal and social progress. Anti-equality marches were held in Colombia in August, forcing the shelving of SOGI-inclusive educational materials for schools. Tens of thousands also marched in Mexico in September to protest the president’s marriage equality proposal.
Renewed Troublemaking by Exporters of Hate
American exporters of hate carried their hatred to other parts of the world, having failed to gain much traction for their toxic views here in the United States. LGBTQ rights organizations and allies in civil society and governments played an active role in challenging the damaging work of these merchants of hate. Steven Anderson, an Arizona-based anti-LGBTQ pastor, was banned from visiting South Africa in September following a spirited campaign by activists and allies. He was also arrested and deported from Botswana for inciting anti-LGBTQ hatred on a radio program. In November, a crucial summary judgment hearing was held at a federal court in Massachusetts in the ongoing case against American anti-LGBTQ exporter of hate Scott Lively. The case was brought by a U.S. group representing activists from the group Sexual Minorities Uganda. Lively is accused of crimes against humanity for his efforts to revoke the fundamental rights of LGBTQ Ugandans.