Highs and lows marked global LGBT news in 2019

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Monday December 30, 2019
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People celebrate the passage of a same-sex marriage bill May 17 outside of Taiwan's Legislative Yuan in Taipei. Photo: Courtesy AP
People celebrate the passage of a same-sex marriage bill May 17 outside of Taiwan's Legislative Yuan in Taipei. Photo: Courtesy AP

In 2019, global news affecting LGBTQs was filled with intense struggles and some big wins - from marriage equality to decriminalization to conversion therapy to politics.

There was time to celebrate. New York hosted the world's largest Pride event ever with millions of people from around the world descending on the Big Apple to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots and WorldPride.

Marriage equality

Taiwan became the first country in Asia to win marriage equality when the supreme court's 2017 marriage equality ruling went into effect in May. The win brought out more than 200,000 people from around the world to celebrate at Taiwan Pride in Taipei in October.

Members of the United Kingdom's parliament extended same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland in July. The country's first weddings began October 22. However, the win was bittersweet in Belfast, as the LGBT community mourned out journalist Lyra McKee, who was shot to death during a night of rioting in Londonderry in April in what authorities described as a terrorist incident.

Austria celebrated its first same-sex wedding after marriage equality became legal at the beginning of 2019, but it came with a caveat: Viennese LGBT activists told the Bay Area Reporter in April that conservatives successfully inserted a clause in the law stating that binational couples can only be married if the foreign partner of an Austrian is a citizen of a country where same-sex marriage is legal.

Three country's high courts ruled in favor of same-sex marriage - Bulgaria, Cayman Islands, and Ecuador. Leaders in three countries - China, El Salvador, and the Philippines - said no to marriage equality.

India, which decriminalized homosexuality in 2018, also said no to same-sex marriage and family protections when the Delhi High Court dismissed a case in July.

Same-sex couples in Hong Kong also saw a setback in a marriage equality case. One judge ruled in favor of moving a same-sex marriage case forward at the beginning of the year, but in June another court upheld the ban on marriage equality.

The Congress of the Mexican state of Zacatecas narrowly voted 11-13, with two abstentions, against legalizing same-sex marriage in August. Additionally, the states of Yucat�n and Sinaloa also voted down bills that would have come in line with Mexico's Supreme Court decision in 2015 that legalized same-sex marriage throughout the country.

Despite the setbacks in the courts, binational couples successfully helped the cause of same-sex marriage rights in the Baltics. Two separate couples won landmark cases recognizing their marriages in Bulgaria and Lithuania, where there isn't marriage equality. The decision was in line with the June 2018 European Court of Justice ruling that said countries without same-sex marriage within the European Union must recognize marriages in other member states within the EU.

A gay couple's same-sex marriage case was backed by Chile's supreme court in February. Chile legalized civil unions that grant same-sex couples the same rights as married heterosexual couples without the name "marriage" in 2015.

Some countries renewed or launched new marriage equality campaigns.

Czechia's bid for same-sex marriage was backed by Prime Minister Andrej Babis on a conservative cable television station at the beginning of April. Babis' endorsement gave a boost to the country's marriage equality advocates for the "We Are Fair" (www.fairmarriage.org) marriage equality campaign. At the time, marriage equality advocates were awaiting legislative action by parliament. They are still waiting. A bill remains stuck in parliament, which prompted outrage by LGBT activists in the Eastern European country and protests in September.

A lesbian couple led the charge challenging Peru's national identification registry's refusal to recognize their 2016 marriage in Miami. In April, the couple won a landmark victory in a local court that ruled authorities must treat the couple's marriage as any other couple's union, calling the refusal to do so discriminatory and unconstitutional.

Lesbians in Japan also kicked off the country's legal battle for same-sex marriage last January. The following month, they were joined by 13 LGBT couples in a legal challenge for marriage equality against the government.

In December, LGBT activists took to the streets of Bangkok after Thailand's parliament failed to take action on the country's civil unions bill all year.

Queer family wins and losses

Ana Brnabic, Serbia's first out lesbian prime minister and the world's first gay world leader to become a parent while in office, didn't give a boost to queer families in her country. In August, Serbian officials responded to her new family by blocking future access to same-sex couples forming families in the country.

Despite her position and being a new parent herself, she didn't speak out against the officials' move against same-sex families.

France, however, moved closer to making reproductive technologies available to single and queer women. In October, the country's National Assembly overwhelmingly approved a controversial bill that will allow lesbians and single women to create families with reproductive assistance. The bill went to the Senate, where it is currently being debated. A vote on the bill is anticipated in January.


LGBT communities around the world experienced severe backlash as some countries criminalized homosexuality with harsh punishments. Hate crimes against the LGBT community also saw an uptick in countries that are considered LGBT-friendly with large LGBT communities.

Chechnya, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, and Russia continued attacks against their LGBT communities with mass arrests and torture. The U.S. remained silent against these atrocities, especially in Chechnya. Instead, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo chose to appoint anti-gay members to the department's human rights commission in July. The EU and United Nations Human Rights Commission took the lead by increasing pressure on, and taking legal action against, Russia.

Uganda renewed its violent attacks on LGBTs throughout the year, culminating in the arrests of 67 queer activists in December. Leaders also threatened to bring back the so-called Kill the Gays bill in November, despite denying it after a swift global outcry.

In Malaysia, five gay men were arrested and caned for gay sex, and in Nigeria, 47 men were detained on the suspicion of being gay.

In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro led crackdowns on the LGBT community. He stripped LGBT Brazilians of their rights within hours of taking office last January 1. In June, Brazil's Supreme Court banned homophobia and transphobia.

In Brunei, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah enforced his country's Islamic law against gay sex that includes a barbaric death sentence. The response was a global outcry and boycotts of the sultan's luxury hotels and other businesses.

Indonesia attempted to criminalize consensual sex outside of marriage, effectively banning same-sex relations. In late September, President Joko Widodo called for parliament to delay the vote on the bill.

Lebanon also launched a crackdown on its LGBT community.

Even countries that tout their LGBT-friendliness, such as Israel and the U.K., saw an uptick in anti-gay attacks in 2019. Israel reported an increase in hate crimes against the LGBT community. In the U.K., two lesbians were attacked on a London bus and the country saw its own anti-gay cake case go to its high court.

There was some delayed justice and royal support in 2019.

In May, eight Islamist extremists were charged with brutally hacking to death prominent Bangladeshi gay rights activists Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Tonoy in 2016. Mannan was the publisher of Bangladesh's first LGBT magazine.

In July, Britain's Prince William announced he would support any of his children if they were gay.

Also that month, members of the U.S. Congress introduced the Globe Act to protect LGBT people around the world. The act was introduced in the Senate in December.

Criminalization and conversion therapy

All eyes were on Kenya to follow India's lead by becoming the next former British colony to do away with the archaic colonial-era anti-sodomy and buggery laws that criminalize homosexuality. Ultimately, Kenya's High Court upheld the laws last May.

Gabon, a central African country, criminalized homosexuality in 2019. The new anti-gay law came to light in December, six months after lawmakers in the small African country passed it in July.

President Donald Trump gave lip service to a global campaign to decriminalize homosexuality twice in 2019.

Conversion therapy also appeared to emerge as one of the next big global campaigns with the release of OutRight Action International's groundbreaking report "Harmful Treatment: The Global Reach of So-Called Conversion Therapy," published in August. Queer communities around the world, most notably in Ecuador and China, have battled clinics claiming to cure gays for years, but now they have research to back up their efforts.

Soon after the report was published, Ecuador opened its first-ever Trans Psycho-Medical Center for conversion therapy survivors in Guayaquil.

Germany banned conversion therapy December 18 and Norway's leaders are poised to follow suit as a bill to ban the practice was introduced in November.

Trans rights

In May, the World Health Organization declassified gender identity disorder as a mental illness in its latest publication of the International Classification of Diseases.

In September, a transgender activist in Kosovo won their case to legally recognize their gender on government-issued documents. A Russian transgender activist won her employment case in April and a Chinese transgender woman's employment discrimination case was allowed to move forward in December.

In April, an Armenian transgender woman faced her country's parliament despite death threats to become the first in her country to testify about her experiences.

Asylum seekers and refugees

LGBT asylum seekers and refugees fought back in Kenya. Nearly 100 left the notorious Kakuma Camp, settling briefly in Nairobi. The refugees, many escaping violence in other African countries, protested outside of the UNHRC offices. They demanded compensation for unpaid monthly stipends and criticized the lack of proper documentation that would allow them to work in Kenya. They also protested the dangerous situation for them at the camp. Their efforts turned violent and they were returned to the camp.

LGBT organizations in Nairobi and the camp, along with assistance from the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration, launched successful microbusinesses to help refugees learn skills and earn an income while living at the camp.

Asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border received support from organizations and gay California politicians and celebrities who visited the LGBT safe houses in Tijuana and helped improve the migrants' living conditions and provide aid as they await approval to enter the U.S. despite Trump's ongoing efforts limiting entry into the country.

In May, the first 10 asylum seekers from the LGBT caravan arrived in the U.S.

However, other asylum seekers haven't been as fortunate. Throughout the year, immigration activists criticized U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's treatment of LGBT asylum seekers during detainment. At least two asylum seekers from Latin America died soon after being released by ICE custody.

The U.S. isn't the only country being criticized for its detainment of asylum seekers. Australian LGBT activists have been vocal about a Saudi Arabian gay couple who are journalists and were detained soon after they landed in the country in November. One of the journalists was released in December, but his partner remains in custody.

This year brought more assistance for LGBT asylum seekers and refugees in Kenya. The U.S.-based AsylumConnect expanded into Canada, increased its network, and launched a mobile app. The LGBT Asylum Project opened new offices in San Francisco's Castro district. ORAM named Steve Roth as its new executive director in July.


Poland's LGBT community became a scapegoat with a strong anti-gay campaign waged by the country's ruling Law and Justice Party and its leader, Jaros?aw Kaczy?ski, which led it to an overwhelming victory.

LGBT Poles expressed fear and desire to flee the country or stay and fight.

Situations like Poland will continue to be monitored by UN LGBT expert Victor Madrigal-Borloz after the renewal of his position in November.

Colombia celebrated a huge win when lesbian politician Claudia Lopez was elected mayor of Bogota, the country's capital, in a landslide victory in October.

Other major political victories this year include the election of Guatemala's first-ever openly gay congressman Aldo Davila. Davila, 48, received death threats after he was elected and takes office in January.

Voters in the town of Tromello, Italy elected their first-ever openly transgender mayor, Gianmarco Negri, a 40-year-old lawyer.

This year also saw the first gay man running for president of Tunisia. Gay activist and lawyer Mounir Baatour, 48, announced his campaign on Facebook in June.

Trump nominated his third openly gay diplomat, Robert S. Gilchrist, as ambassador to Lithuania. His nomination is still under review by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In June, Pakistani officials hired Ayesha Moghul, a trans woman, to work in its human rights ministry.


The Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is now observed worldwide, celebrated its 20th anniversary.

In July, the Inter-American Committee Human Rights called upon Honduras to investigate transgender murders, which have continued to be high in the Central American country.

Russian activist Yelena Grigoryeva was murdered days after receiving death threats in July. Family and friends questioned Russian authorities' investigation of her murder.

In November, Haiti's leading gay rights activist, Charlot Jeudy, was found dead in his home with feces surrounding his bed.

In October, a gay Ugandan man, Brian Wasswa, was attacked in his home. Neighbors found him and rushed him to the hospital, but he didn't survive.


Sydney won its bid to host WorldPride 2023. South Korea celebrated its 20th Pride parade. Warsaw's mayor became the first to march in a Pride parade in Poland. North Macedonia hosted its inaugural Pride event. Pride events were hosted in Hungary and Pakistan for the first time.

Some U.S. embassies defied the White House during Pride Month in June by featuring rainbow flags and lights.

Bosnia hosted its first Pride event without violence.

Not all Pride events were joyful and peaceful. Cuba's celebration was suddenly canceled; police banned Pride in Hong Kong; and Georgia's event in Tbilisi was postponed due to threats of violence.

Pridegoers in Ankara, Turkey marched despite a ban. Nineteen marchers were arrested and charged despite a court striking down a ban on the LGBT event. As of November, the Turkish government hadn't dropped the charges against the LGBT activists despite calls by human rights activists.

Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp: 415-517-7239, or Skype: heather.cassell, or [email protected].