Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

2016 nail-biter of a year for LGBT rights


Gay Syrian refugee Muhammed Wisam Sankari was murdered this year in Istanbul.
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It was a year of dramatic changes with unforeseen twists that even the best novelist couldn't have dreamed up for LGBT rights around the world.

The year saw many firsts, particularly with appointments of LGBT experts in Canada, the United Nations, and the World Bank. Canada also established the world's first-ever trans chair – Aaron Devor, an expert in gender and sex – and transgender studies department at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.

However, the biggest shockers of the year were the election of Republican Donald Trump in November, the massacre at Pulse Night Club in Orlando, Florida in June; and the brutal murder of the Bangladeshi gay rights activists Xulhaz Mannan and a friend, Tanay "Tonoy" Mojumdar, in May.

This year, the LGBT community also will say goodbye to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who was a key advocate for LGBT rights during his tenure, and welcome Antonio Guterres of Portugal, who some advocates are unsure of.


Gone too soon

Bangladesh's LGBT community hasn't recovered from the murders of the prominent gay rights advocates in May. Rather, LGBT people who could get out of the country have left and those who have stayed have gone deep underground, activists have told the media. Arrests of two suspects connected to terrorist organizations haven't alleviated the situation in the country, especially for its transgender community.

Other LGBT rights activists who died this year included prominent Guatemalan trans activist Evelyn Zulma Alegria Robles; Honduras gay rights activist Rene Martinez, who was a rising political leader; Mexican transgender beauty queen Paulett Gonzalez; and gay Syrian refugee Muhammed Wisam Sankari, among many others.


Political wounds and wins

Maite Oronoz Rodriguez became the first lesbian chief justice of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court when she was sworn in February 23. Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. Rodriguez has been a member of the high court since 2014.

That same month, Canada appointed its first transgender judge, Kael McKenzie, who took a seat at the Winnipeg Law Courts as provincial court judge in Manitoba.

Ireland elected its first-ever lesbian member of the lower house of parliament, Katherine Zappone, in March.

While other countries progressed, the United States regressed with the election of Trump, and his subsequent nominees for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R) and Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. Trump's election and political appointments have inspired LGBT opponents. On International Human Rights Day this month Brian Brown, president of the World Congress of Families, announced the launch of the International Organization for the Family to promote conservative family and religious rights.

Gambia and Uganda also held presidential elections this year. Uganda's anti-gay President Yoweri Museveni won his fifth term in February. Gambia's anti-gay President Yahya Jammeh lost the election to opponent Adama Barrow December 1, however, Jammeh rejected the election results and demanded a new election nine days later.

Ugandan authorities twice raided a Pride event. Indonesia cracked down on its LGBT community.

Anti-gay countries didn't pay much attention in the spring to the World Psychiatric Association's recommendation for global decriminalization of homosexuality in the spring.

In October, the East African Court threw out Ugandan LGBT activists' challenge to the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014, saying it was moot because it was struck down that same year by the country's constitutional court. However, the decision was a blow to Ugandan activists and other LGBT activists in countries in the region battling similar laws.

Chad criminalized homosexuality in December.

The position of the U.N. expert on LGBT rights, Vitit Muntarbhorn, was narrowly safeguarded following two attempts spearheaded by some African state leaders to suspend him. Belize Ambassador Lois Michele Young changed the Central American country's vote against the LGBT expert to one of support December 23, reported Breaking Belize News at the end of December.

In August, Belize's Supreme Court ruled the country's anti-sodomy law unconstitutional.

Justice was served to Yishai Schlissel, who murdered 16-year-old straight ally Shira Banki and injured five others at Jerusalem Pride in 2015. In April, Schlissel was convicted of murder and six counts of attempted murder by a Jerusalem court.

By the end of the year, LGBT activists successfully warded off hate when anti-gay Arizona preacher Steven Anderson was booted out of Botswana and blocked from entering South Africa due to his anti-LGBT message. November saw the start of anti-gay Massachusetts pastor Scott Lively's federal trial. He is facing charges of crimes against humanity in a case that was filed by Sexual Minorities Uganda.

Australians who were a part of the country's own version of Stonewall, the 78ers, received an official apology from political leaders and Sydney police for the infamous bloody evening.


Where love won and is still in question

Monday, December 26 provided a dramatic turn of events in Taiwan's same-sex marriage battle when a legislative committee approved a preliminary amendment to Article 927 of the Civil Code that states, "an agreement to marry between people of the same-sex shall be made by the two parties involved."

At the beginning of the year, Taiwan elected its first president who is pro-same-sex marriage and a woman. It was touch and go during the year as religious groups against legalizing same-sex marriage in the country appeared to be winning through demonstrations. An estimated 30,000 proponents and 4,000 opponents of the bill demonstrated outside of the legislative body, reported Gay Star News.

The amendment still needs to undergo two more readings, according to Yu Mei-nu, Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker and chairman.

Romanian government officials support a ban on same-sex marriage, but the country's Constitutional Court isn't rushing into a decision.

The case and debate involve American-Romanian gay husbands Claibourn Robert Hamilton and Adrian Coman, both 44, who currently live in New York. The couple filed the case to have their marriage recognized in Romania. The two men married in Belgium in 2010.

The court deferred making a decision on the married binational couple's case, opting to consult with the European Court of Justice on similar same-sex marriage cases, most-likely to stay within the European Union's good graces, experts said.

Romania decriminalized homosexuality in 2001. The majority Eastern Orthodox country doesn't legally recognize same-sex relationships. Romania became a member of the European Union in 2007.

The court plans to decide on the case March 30.

Greenland passed marriage equality in April. Italy passed civil unions in May.

Also in May, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto proposed legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the country. Thousands of LGBT couples have married in the 31 states and its federal district Mexico City, which first legalized same-sex marriage in 2009.

The announcement prompted demonstrations by thousands of anti-LGBT protesters during the fall, one that became notable when a 12-year-old boy stood alone in a road attempting to stop the demonstrators in Celaya, Guanajuato because he has a gay uncle, he told photojournalist Manuel Rodriguez.

LGBTs in the Czech Republic and Italy won small victories in 2016 with local courts recognizing their families.


Big wins and honors

Malta passed the most progressive gender identity bill, banned conversion therapy, and allowed LGBT inclusion during the People's Forum ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting and included LGBT equality in its official declaration.

Greece also passed a controversial gay rights bill that expanded protection of key LGBT rights, such as protection of same-sex couples and workplace protections regardless of sexual orientation, gender, or religion in the Mediterranean country.

Pakistan officials announced that they are starting to reconsider gender laws in the country following a brutal attack on a transgender woman.

LGBT refugees will find an open door and friendly face in Canada thanks to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who welcomed LGBT Syrian refugees.

New organizations were launched to support LGBT activists around the world. The Ambassadors for Equality was founded by more than 50 former U.S. ambassadors who pledged to support LGBT rights.

The U.N. launched a new intersex rights campaign.

In San Francisco, gay Syrian activist Subhi Nahas founded Spectra, an organization to help other LGBT Syrian refugees living in Turkey and Syria. Immigration attorneys Okan Sengun, who is gay, and Brooke Westlingin, a straight ally, founded the Center for Immigrant Protection's LGBT Asylum Project.


Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at Skype: heather.cassell, or

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