by Michael K. Lavers
(The following report appeared in the December 31, 2021, issue of the Washington Blade and is reprinted here with permission.)
The Biden administration’s pledge to champion LGBTQ rights abroad was the dominant international story in 2021, but anti-LGBTQ crackdowns and efforts to expand rights also made headlines around the world over the past year. Here are the top 10 international stories of 2021:
#10: Botswana Court of Appeals decriminalizes same-sex sexual relations
The Botswana Court of Appeals on Nov. 29 upheld a ruling that decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country.
Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) challenged the colonial-era criminalization law.
Botswana’s High Court in 2019 unanimously ruled the law was unconstitutional. The Botswana government appealed the decision.
“Today is a momentous day in history, a victorious win in ascertaining liberty, privacy and dignity of the LGBTIQ persons in Botswana and definitely, this judgement sets precedence for the world at large,” said LEGABIBO CEO Thato Moruti after the Court of Appeals ruling.
#9: LGBTQ athletes compete in Summer Olympics
A record number of openly LGBTQ athletes competed in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Laurel Hubbard, a weightlifter from New Zealand, became the first out trans person to compete in any Olympics. Quinn, a non-binary trans person who is a member of the Canadian women’s soccer team, won an Olympic gold medal.
Tom Daley, a British Olympic diver who is married to writer Dustin Lance Black, also medaled during the games.
#8: LGBTQ activists, journalists arrested in Cuba
LGBTQ activists and journalists were among the hundreds of people who were arrested during anti-government protests in Cuba on July 11.
Maykel González Vivero, director of Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba, was violently arrested near Havana’s Revolution Square during one of the protests.
Yoan de la Cruz, a gay man who live-streamed the first protest that took place in San Antonio de los Baños, remains in custody. He faces an 8-year prison sentence.
The protests took place against the backdrop of mounting food shortages, a worsening economic crisis, human rights abuses and criticism over the government’s response to the pandemic. Thousands of Cuban Americans on July 26 marched to the Cuban Embassy in D.C. in support of the protesters.
#7: Gay Games in Hong Kong remain in doubt
The 2023 Gay Games that are scheduled to take place in Hong Kong remain in doubt amid growing concerns over China’s human rights record.
Gay Games Hong Kong in September postponed the event until 2023 because of the pandemic.
Hong Kong’s National Security Law, which human rights activists say makes it easier for authorities to punish anyone in the former British colony who challenges the Chinese government, took effect in 2020. Upwards of two million Hong Kongers took part in pro-democracy protests the year before.
The Women’s Tennis Association has suspended tournaments in Hong Kong and throughout China in response to the disappearance of Peng Shuai, a Chinese tennis star, after she publicly accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. Diplomats from the U.S. and other countries will also boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
“The Federation of Gay Games continues to monitor the situation in Hong Kong regarding COVID-19, the National Security Law and all other aspects that affect the safety and security of our event,” Sean Fitzgerald, co-president of the Federation of Gay Games, told the Blade in a statement after the Women’s Tennis Association announced it had suspended all of its tournaments in China. “We are committed to hosting Gay Games 11 in Hong Kong in November 2023.”
#6: Anti-LGBTQ crackdowns continue in Hungary, Poland
The governments of Hungary and Poland in 2021 continued their anti-LGBTQ crackdowns.
The European Commission in July announced legal action against Hungary after a law that bans the promotion of homosexuality and sex-reassignment surgery to minors took effect. Hungarian lawmakers in November approved a resolution that paves the way for a referendum on LGBTQ issues.
The European Commission in September threatened to withhold funds from five Polish provinces that have enacted so-called LGBTQ “free zones.” Polish lawmakers have also sought to ban Pride marches and other pro-LGBTQ events.
#5: LGBTQ candidates elected throughout the world
LGBTQ candidates won elections throughout the world in 2021.
Two transgender women — Tessa Ganserer and Nyke Slawik — won seats in the German Parliament in September. Emilia Schneider in November became the first openly trans person elected to the Chilean congress. Victor Grajeda in November became the first openly gay man to win a seat in the Honduran congress.
Openly gay Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Idan Roll is the youngest person in his country’s new government that formed in June after longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ouster. Israeli Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz is also openly gay.
#4: Efforts to ban conversion therapy gain traction
More countries moved to ban so-called conversion therapy in 2021.
A Canadian law that prohibits the widely discredited practice in the country took effect last month.
French lawmakers on Dec. 15 approved a bill that would ban conversion therapy in their country.
Measures to prohibit conversion therapy are also before legislators in Finland and New Zealand. The British Parliament in 2022 is expected to debate a bill that would ban conversion therapy in England and Wales. Brazil and Malta are two of the countries that already ban conversion therapy.
#3: VP Harris acknowledges anti-LGBTQ violence as cause of migration
Vice President Kamala Harris throughout 2021 acknowledged that anti-LGBTQ violence is one of the “root causes” of migration from Central America.
Harris in June raised the issue during a meeting with Visibles Executive Director Daniel Villatoro, Ingrid Gamboa of the Association of Garifuna Women Living with HIV/AIDS and other Guatemalan civil society members that took place in Guatemala City. State Department spokesperson Ned Price, who is openly gay, a few weeks earlier told the Blade that protecting LGBTQ migrants and asylum seekers is one of the Biden Administration’s global LGBTQ rights priorities.
Immigrant rights activists who remain critical of the Biden Administration’s immigration policy note Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the coronavirus pandemic, remains in place. The so-called Remain in Mexico policy that forces asylum seekers to pursue their cases in Mexico has also been reinstated under a court order.
“To be a trans person is synonymous with teasing, harassment, violence and even death,” Venus, a transgender woman from La Ceiba, Honduras, told the Blade in July during an interview in the city.
#2: LGBTQ Afghans desperate to flee after Taliban regains control
LGBTQ Afghans remain desperate to flee after the Taliban regained control of the country on Aug. 15.
Two groups of LGBTQ Afghans that Stonewall, Rainbow Railroad and Micro Rainbow evacuated with the help of the British government arrived in the U.K. in the fall. Some of the Afghan human rights activists who Taylor Hirschberg, a researcher at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health who is also a Hearst Foundation scholar, has been able to help leave the country since the Taliban regained control of it are LGBTQ.
A Taliban judge in July said the group would once again execute gay people if it were to return to power in Afghanistan. Rainbow Railroad and Immigration Equality are among the groups that continue to urge the Biden Administration to do more to help LGBTQ Afghans who remain inside the country.
#1: Biden commits U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad
The Biden administration in February issued a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price, who is gay, in May told the Washington Blade the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the five global LGBTQ rights priorities for the Biden Administration.
The White House in June named then-OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern as the next special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad. The State Department in October announced it would issue passports with an “X” gender marker.