LGBT+ in 2016: The Year in Review

2015 was a busy year for for the LGBT+ worldwide community.  In the United States, activists rejoiced at the Supreme Court decision to uphold the constitutionality of same-sex marriage and the Military Equal Opportunity policy became inclusive to gay and lesbian military members.  Mexico effectively legalized the practice shortly before the U.S. through a jurisprudential thesis ruling that a heterosexual-exclusive definition of marriage was discriminatory and unconstitutional.  In the meantime, Australia had sought to use momentum from the U.S. movement to introduce a bill of its own proposing a national vote on same-sex marriage; it was defeated in the Senate.

Image courtesy of Tony Webster, © 2013.

Slightly over a year later, there has been a great deal of legal changes in countries addressing same-sex marriage and LGBT+ rights as a whole. Unfortunately, many of these movements have been met with violence and hatred, rather than meaningful progress.  Russia is a prime example.

Since the passage of a federal law against gay “propaganda,” in 2013, hate crimes against LGBT+ individuals have increased, and along with them, the number of U.S. asylum applications.  2016 was the fourth straight year asylum application numbers from Russia increased, hitting an amount not seen in two decades and twice the number since the beginning of President Putin’s third term.  While this number is impressive, consider the fact that the European Union, particularly Germany and Poland, is a much more common destination for asylum-seekers.  Last year, Germany received 10,172 asylum applications.  The EU as a whole received more than 18,000.

Most recently, Russia has threatened to ban EA Game’s FIFA ’17 video game for violating the 2013 law. The offense? The game allows players to choose rainbow-colored uniforms.

Indonesia, too, has cracked down on its LGBT+ citizens.  In 2013, 93% of Indonesians expressed a belief that homosexuality should be rejected by society.  The climate surrounding homosexuality has not improved; currently, courts are considering accepting an expansion of a previous law which banned  adult sex with minors of the same gender to include sex between two adults of the same gender.  The group behind this expansion, the Family Love Alliance, argues that LGBT+ relationships lead to “moral degradation.”  This same group has also called for bans on Grindr and up to eighty gay-friendly apps.

On the other hand, there have been victories for the international LGBT+ community.  In November, the United Nations General Assembly’s Third Committee affirmed the mandate creating the position of an Independent Expert handling violence and discrimination due to sexual orientation and gender identity.  Thai international law professor Vitit Muntarbhorn was named as the first the fill this position officially titled UN Independent Expert on the Protection against Violence and Discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.  The purpose of this position is to:

Assess implementation of existing international human rights law, identify best practices and gaps, raise awareness of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and engage in dialogue and consultation with countries and other stakeholders.

The mandate had been opposed by several African countries hoping to block professor Muntarbhorn’s work until “the UN could debate the ‘legal basis’ of the mandate.”

In the U.S., the LGBT+ community has also achieved multiple progressive milestones.  President Obama announced the first national monument to LGBT+ rights protecting the area around the Stonewall Inn, site of one of the key uprisings leading up to the gay-liberation movement.  The Pentagon lifted its ban on the ability of transgender citizens to openly serve in the military.  This also includes full medical coverage, including hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery.  And governor Kate Brown of Oregon became the highest-ranking LGBT+ elected official in the country.

Despite these victories, activists worry about the repercussions of a Trump-Pence presidency.  Their platform includes an attempt to overturn same-sex marriage, supporting laws limiting bathroom options for transgender people, and the allowance of conversion therapy.  In addition, President Trump has threatened to nullify all of President Obama’s executive orders.  These include a ban on discrimination by federal contractors and another that protects transgender students.  The choice of Gov. Pence as Vice President, a staunch LGBT+ rights opponent with a history of opposing rights as both a member of Congress and governor of Indiana, frightens activists even more.

While progress has been made in 2016, it remains to be seen whether the tide will turn.  In some countries, like Russia and Indonesia, there does not appear to be any evidence of the situation improving.  The United States continued to inch toward greater equality


Beth Bickerton

Beth is an international affairs professional located in Brooklyn, NY. While she can be considered an international relations generalist, she has focused her research on the European Union and especially on France’s role within it. Beth has spent time working for the United States Supreme Court, human rights nonprofits, and social science think tanks. Having a passion for writing, she acted as a staff writer and editor of Seton Hall University’s international relations newspaper as an undergraduate her work was recently featured on Global Public Policy Watch. Beth graduated with a B.S. in Diplomacy and International Relations from the School of Diplomacy at Seton Hall University. In addition, she holds a minor in French and has studied at La Sorbonne in Paris, France. You can connect with her on Twitter @BethBickerton.
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