Top 10 international stories of 2023: Wars in Ukraine and Israel continue

by Michael K. Lavers
(The following piece was written by Washington Blade international news editor Michael K. Lavers and appeared in the December 28, 2023, issue of the newspaper. It appears here with permission.)

War, continued anti-LGBTQ crackdowns and the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations are among the issues that made headlines around the world over the past year. Here are the top international stories of 2023.

#10 Mauritius and the Cook Islands decriminalize homosexuality

The Mauritius Supreme Court on October 4 issued a ruling that decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country.

Abdool Ridwan Firaas (Ryan) Ah Seek, a gay man and prominent LGBTQ activist, in 2019 filed a lawsuit that sought to strike down the colonial-era penal code. The court issued its ruling roughly two months after Mauritius hosted the Pan Africa ILGA Conference.

Lawmakers in the Cook Islands in April voted to repeal a provision of a 1969 law that criminalized homosexuality in the country.

#9 British Prime Minister Sunak fires anti-LGBTQ home secretary 

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on November 13 fired Suella Braverman, his government’s controversial home secretary who was a vocal opponent of LGBTQ rights.

Braverman, among other things, opposed transgender rights. “Trans women have no place in women’s wards or, indeed, any safe space relating to biological women,” she told Sky News a few weeks before Sunak fired her.

Braverman, in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute in September, said the country “will not be able to sustain an asylum system if, in effect, simply being gay or a woman, and fearful of discrimination in your country of origin, is sufficient to qualify for protection.”

Edgars Rinkēvičs, Latvia’s first openly gay president

#8 Edgars Rinkēvičs becomes Latvia’s first openly gay president

Edgars Rinkēvičs on July 8 became Latvia’s first openly gay president.

Rinkēvičs had been the country’s foreign minister since 2011. He is the first openly gay head of state of a European Union country or a nation that was once part of the Soviet Union.

#7 Anti-LGBTQ crackdowns continue in Russia, Eastern Europe

The Russian government in 2023 continued its crackdown on LGBTQ rights.

The country’s Supreme Court on November 30 ruled the global LGBTQ rights movement is an “extremist organization.” Police within days of the ruling raided gay bars and clubs in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

President Vladimir Putin in July signed a bill that bans transition-related therapy and surgery in the country.

U.S. Ambassador to Hungary David Pressman, who is gay, on June 16 criticized the crackdown on LGBTQ rights in the country during a speech he gave at a Budapest Pride reception.

Gay Polish MEP (member of European Parliament), Robert Biedroń during an interview with the Washington Blade in Brussels over the summer described Poland as “the most homophobic country on the map of Europe in the EU.”

#6 Thailand poised to become next Asian country to extend marriage rights

Thailand could become the next country in Asia to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The country’s Cabinet on November 21 approved a marriage equality bill. Lawmakers were expected to debate it last month.

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in Taiwan since 2019.

The Nepalese Supreme Court on June 28 issued a ruling that opened the door to marriage equality in that country. Maya Ram Bahadur Gurung and Surendra Pandey on November 29 legally registered their marriage.

#5 Latin America’s first nonbinary judge killed by partner

Authorities in Mexico’s Aguascalientes state on November 13 found Jesús Ociel Baena, Latin America’s first nonbinary judge, dead in their home.

Baena in October 2022 became a magistrate on Aguascalientes’ electoral court. Baena in June was one of the first people in Mexico to receive a passport with a nonbinary gender marker.

Baena had previously received death threats. Prosecutors said Baena’s partner killed them before dying by suicide.

#4 Brazilian President Lula da Silva sworn before Bolsonaro supporters storm capital

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on January 1, 2023, took office in his country’s capital of Brasília.

Lula Da Silva, a member of the leftist Worker’s Party, was Brazil’s president from 2003-2010. He defeated Jair Bolsonaro, a former Brazilian Army captain and congressman who sparked outrage over his comments LGBTQ people and other groups and his anti-democratic rhetoric, in the country’s presidential election that took place in October 2022.

Thousands of Bolsonaro supporters on January 8, 2023, stormed Brazil’s Congress, Presidential Palace and Supreme Court.

#3 Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act signed into law

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on May 29 signed his country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The U.S. in response imposed visa restrictions against Ugandan officials and removed the country from a sub-Saharan Africa free trade agreement.

The World Bank Group also suspended new loans to Uganda.

Lawmakers in Kenya, Tanzania and other African countries have sought to introduce bills that are similar to the Anti-Homosexuality Act. Officials in Nigeria and other African countries over the last year continued to crack down on LGBTQ people.

However, the Namibia Supreme Court on May 16 ruled the country’s government must recognize same-sex marriages that were legally performed abroad.

#2 Indian Supreme Court rules against marriage equality

The Indian Supreme Court on October 17 issued its long-anticipated ruling that did not extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The justices earlier in the year heard oral arguments in the landmark case. 

The Supreme Court in its ruling said lawmakers must decide whether to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The Supreme Court on November 23 agreed to consider an appeal of the ruling, although observers with whom the Blade has spoken say they don’t expect it to succeed. The Supreme Court in 2018 struck down India’s colonial-era sodomy law.

#1 War in Israel and Ukraine

Hamas on October 7 launched a surprise attack against southern Israel.

The attack killed more than 1,000 Israelis, and militants from Hamas and other Muslim extremist groups kidnapped more than 200 people. The Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry says Israeli airstrikes have killed upwards of 20,000 people in the Gaza Strip.

LGBTQ activists in Israel since October 7 have worked to help people in the country whom the war has displaced.

Meanwhile, Russia’s war against Ukraine continues.

Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., on January 26, 2023, during an event in Washington that highlighted LGBTQ Ukrainian servicemembers, thanked activists for their work in support of equal rights.

“Thank you for everything you do in Kyiv, and thank you for everything that you do in order to fight the discrimination that still is somewhere in Ukraine,” said Markarova.

Volume 25
Issue 11

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