Out in the World: Mixed record on LGBTQ rights across the world in 2021

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Wednesday December 29, 2021
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LGBTQ people around the world had reason to celebrate victories and protest defeats during 2021. Photo: Courtesy AdobeStock/Daniel Jedzura
LGBTQ people around the world had reason to celebrate victories and protest defeats during 2021. Photo: Courtesy AdobeStock/Daniel Jedzura

The year started out on a hopeful note. The world was looking forward to getting past a dark period in America's leadership and the global COVID-19 pandemic. President Joe Biden's administration and the rollout of vaccines brought some optimism to LGBTQ people globally.

However, conservatives and progressives continued their fights over LGBTQ rights. There were victories but violence against LGBTQs in Afghanistan, Ghana, Hungary, Myanmar, Poland, and Uganda dominated the headlines.

Queer people were on the frontline protesting against Myanmar's military coup in February, with many dying when the military violently shot demonstrators on the streets. In August, LGBTQ Afghans were left behind Taliban and ISIS-K (an Islamic State-affiliated group active in central Asia) lines after the United States and its allies rapidly withdrew from the country.

LGBTQ refugees were constantly attacked at Kenya's infamous Kakuma Refugee Camp, leading to the death of Ugandan gay refugee activist Chriton "Trinidad" Atuhwera in April. In the fall, a groundbreaking report about LGBTQ life at the camp was published by the Organization for Refuge, Asylum, and Migration and Rainbow Railroad.

Violence in Iran continued as reports of executions and honor killings of LGBTQs surfaced from inside the country. Reuters reported the country's queer community expressed no hope under President Ebrahim Raisi's new regime.

Hungary and Poland continued to follow Russia's lead by ignoring European Union, German and French sanctions and legal pressures to abide by human rights standards as the countries continued to oppress LGBTQ citizens. Hungary pushed its anti-propaganda law banning queer books and films for minors while Poland considered a similar law. Russia caught and returned Chechen gay brothers Salekh Magamadov and Ismail Isaev to the country to face persecution and a trial. The country also opened its trial against feminist and LGBTQ activist and artist Yulia Tsvetkova in April. Tsvetkova is charged with alleged pornography and violating the anti-gay propaganda law for distributing her drawings celebrating female bodies. Tsvetkova and the brothers launched hunger strikes protesting Russia.

The European Court of Human Rights ordered Russia to recognize same-sex relationships and transgender parents in two separate court rulings. Additionally, Germany charged five of Chechnya's top leaders with torture for their roles in state-sanctioned "gay purge" that was revealed in 2017.

Russia's response to Europe's pushback was to officially shut down LGBTQ organizations, labeling them as "foreign agents." Russian President Vladimir Putin denied the existence of transgender and gender-variant Russians and banned same-sex marriage at the end of 2021.

The Taliban used social media to hunt down LGBTQ Afghans. China wiped out LGBTQ and feminist activists' social media accounts and blocked internet access.

OutRight Action International, a global LGBTQ advocacy organization, highlighted the online silencing of queer voices in "No Access: LGBTIQ Website Censorship in Six Countries." The report was published in partnership with the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab and the Open Observatory of Network Interference in September.

Social media dating apps were targeted by hackers. Israel's popular gay dating app Atraf was allegedly hacked by Black Shadow, a group of Iran-linked hackers that claimed responsibility. Information from an estimated 1 million users was leaked.

Setting an example to social media companies to adhere to privacy laws and protect users, Norway's Data Protection Authority slapped Grindr with a $7.16 million fine for a major privacy breach. The gay dating app was caught sending personal data to hundreds of potential advertising partners without users' consent against European Union privacy rules, reported the Associated Press.

At the beginning of the year, the governments of Cameroon, Ghana, Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Tunisia, and Uganda used less high-tech methods to attack the LGBTQ community.

Ghanian police raided the country's first and only LGBTQ center in its capital city, Accra, sending its leaders and queer community members into hiding. Police raided alleged queer parties and an LGBTQ activist training. Then eight members of parliament proposed a draconian anti-LGBTQ bill in July, which is making its way through Ghana's parliament.

Senegal followed suit, proposing to criminalize homosexuality earlier this month.

Uganda's Sexual Offenses bill further criminalized the East African country's hard-hit LGBTQ community. The community continued to rally against the bill, despite losing the battle.

Trans killings continue

Countries' attacks on LGBTQ citizens were on the rise this year, fueling hate crimes against LGBTQ people. It was another record-breaking year with 375 recorded transgender killings globally.

Italy and South Korea failed to pass anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBTQ citizens. Italy faced large protests on both sides of the issue criticizing the government. South Korean legislators were criticized for not passing a landmark anti-discrimination act introduced by Park Joo-min, a legislator of the Ruling Democratic Party of Korea. The law would have included protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Human rights activists raised alarms about the rise of anti-LGBTQ hate in Eastern Europe as a conservative wave spread across the region coinciding with a rise in anti-LGBTQ sentiments, such as in Latvia. Activists pointed out Latvia was experiencing a rise in nationalism and homophobia.

Governing bodies pushed back hard, implementing laws and issuing groundbreaking rulings on LGBTQ rights, especially transgender rights. The EU cited Romania for violating the European Convention on Human Rights for "a lack of proper legal framework for legal gender recognition."


Marriage equality and recognition of same-sex couples' relationships continued to march down aisles around the world. Same-sex families made major legal advancements. Bans against conversion therapy made big strides and decriminalization began to make moves. Transgender rights made some significant gains with some countries recognizing the need to simplify gender change laws.

Chile and Switzerland ushered in same-sex marriage as well as Mexico's Yucatan and Sonora states.

Taiwanese binational couples fought for marriage rights. Taiwanese-Macanese couple Ting Tse-yen and Leong Chin-fai won their legal battle and tied the knot in May. This month another binational couple, 34-year-old Taiwanese man Lu Yin-jen and his 42-year-old Japanese partner, Ariyoshi Eizaburo, continued to push for binational same-sex marriage rights in Taiwan, filing a lawsuit against the Taipei municipal government December 24.

Indian couples continued to wait for a decision from the country's supreme court, but that didn't stop same-sex couples from saying "I do" throughout the year, legal or not.

Marriage cases in the Caribbean were stalled. Bermuda and Cayman Islands' same-sex marriage cases went to the Privy Court in the United Kingdom, but there was no ruling before the year was out. Jamacia's supreme court delayed gay activist Maurice Tomlinson's same-sex marriage and decriminalization cases against the island nation.

The Czech Republic's same-sex marriage bill moved one step forward after years of being stalled in parliament.

Montenegro legalized same-sex civil partnerships in July. At the same time, same-sex partners' love was denied in Bolivia and Thailand.

The United Nations spoke out against criminalizing same-sex unions in July, stating it was a violation of human rights. In September, a change in Cuba's family code opened the door to same-sex marriage in the country.

Rainbow families

Same-sex families had major legal wins in Europe and the U.S., yet there were some setbacks in other countries.

In Europe, big wins allowed same-sex parents to confer their citizenship to their children. Courts in France and Israel granted the use of reproductive technologies for lesbian and gay couples to create their families using IVF and surrogacy, respectively.

A Croatian court ruling paved the way for same-sex couples to adopt children. Lesbian mothers in Germany flooded the courts demanding parental rights.

Yet, there were some setbacks in Europe and Africa. Separate court rulings in the Czech Republic closed all registered same-sex couples' adoptions both domestic and foreign. A Namibian court ruled against a gay couple in their fight to take their newborn daughters home.

Criminal cases

Convictions were obtained in the 2016 killings of Bangladeshi gay activists Xulhaz Mannan, 35, and Mahbub Rabby Tonoy, 26. In September, six of eight men were sentenced to death for the murders.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Court ordered the government in Honduras to implement laws protecting LGBTQ people after the killing of transgender activist Vicky Hernandez, 26. The court also ordered the government to provide a scholarship fund for trans Hondurans.

Political strides and losses

This year saw the U.S. reposition itself as an LGBTQ leader. Biden put LGBTQ rights at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy, though the administration has come up short in some areas, such as assistance in relocating LGBTQ Afghans.

Some members of Congress and LGBTQ rights activists were angered that the U.S. left so many queer Afghan refugees behind at the mercy of the Taliban after its chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and no pledge or plan to get them out. In August, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was questioned by gay Congressmember Chris Pappas (D-New Hampshire) and 64 members of Congress in a letter about prioritizing the evacuation of LGBTQ Afghans. The letter followed a similar letter sent by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) and 12 Democratic Senate colleagues questioning the State Department's protection of LGBTQ asylum seekers earlier in the month.

A coalition of LGBTQ organizations working on queer global rights submitted a 10-point action plan to evacuate and resettle LGBTQ Afghans to Biden.

Canada was the only country to publicly announce it would help evacuate and resettle LGBTQ Afghan refugees.

Queer activists criticized Biden, first for not appointing any openly LGBTQ ambassadors then for a lack of diversity among LGBTQ diplomats — there were no women or people of color.

Biden appointed lesbian Jessica Stern, former OutRight Action International executive director, as the second U.S. special envoy to advance the human rights of LGBTQI persons. She began the post in September.

Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) reintroduced the Global Respect Act to Congress in July. According to a summary, the bill imposes visa-blocking sanctions on foreign persons responsible for or complicit in violating the human rights of individuals due to actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex characteristics.

Despite criticism, LGBTQ activists began seeing symbolic and concrete changes by the end of the year. The White House and State Department's momentum putting LGBTQ rights at the forefront of foreign policy began to become visible. Biden put anti-LGBTQ nations on notice at the U.N. General Assembly meeting in September.

Before the year was out, Christopher John Lamora, a gay man and career Foreign Service officer, was nominated as ambassador to Cameroon, one of Africa's anti-LGBTQ hot spots. USAID appointed Jay Gilliam, a gay man, to lead the agency's efforts to promote LGBTQ rights around the world. Gilliam was formerly director of the Human Rights Campaign's global program.

Chile delivered the next biggest political win of the year electing progressive Congressmember Gabriel Boric as the South American country's new president December 19. Boric is an LGBTQ ally and will enter office as Chile's new same-sex marriage law comes into effect.

Greece appointed its first openly gay minister Nicholas Yatromanolakis as deputy minister for Issues of Contemporary Culture in January. In November, Honduras elected Víctor Grajeda, a gay man, to Congress, a first for the country.

Guatemala's Sandra Moran and Peru's Susel Paredes were ushered in as the countries' first out lesbian members of congress. Moran became Guatemala's second out member of congress after gay Congressman Aldo Davila, who is the country's first out politician.

Mexico saw a record number of LGBTQ candidates run for office. More than 100 queer candidates, among them more than 20 who identified as transgender, campaigned for political seats in the June elections. Mexico gained two openly transgender congress members: Maria Clemente Garcia and Salma Luévano.

Germany also elected two transgender women, Tessa Ganserer and Nyke Slawik, to parliament. Yulia Alióshina became Russia's first elected president of the Altai Republic in Siberia in November.

Transgender employees gained rights in Argentina with employment protections and quotas, and Bangladesh announced providing incentives for companies that hire transgender employees.

Sadly, as 2021 wrapped up, the world lost a major LGBTQ advocate - Archbishop Desmond Tutu died December 26. Britain and Israel lost their first out lesbian members of parliament, Maureen Colquhoun and Marcia Freedman, respectively.

Several prominent lesbian and transgender activists also passed away, including Colombia's leading transgender rights activist Laura Weinstein, Russian feminist activist Tatiana Nikonova, and the United Kingdom's pioneering lesbian campaigner Mary Cunningham Simpson.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

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