While it is true that monumental victories have been achieved over the last decades for LGBTQ+ rights, the 2021 Youth Progress Index finds that on openness towards gay and lesbian people, the world is not making enough progress. In several countries, freedom of expression on issues of sexual orientation remains restricted by law; same-sex sexual acts are criminalized and can even lead to a death sentence. Even when restrictive laws are not reinforced, LGBTQ+ people are discriminated against, harassed and denied a job or quality healthcare. Furthermore, according to the Index, emergency laws and other extraordinary measures adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a persistent silencing of young people’s voices and a narrowing of their civic space.
The LGBTQ+ communities and their allies across the globe come together every year to honor diversity and celebrate Pride through a number of peaceful protests, parades and festivals; millions around the world march in a quest to increase their visibility. This year’s Pride celebrations have once again elucidated the magnitude of the discrimination and prejudice faced by minority groups worldwide. Members of the community continue to face threats of violence just because of who they love and, ultimately, who they are; the freedom of assembly, association and expression are restricted as Pride events are banned or forcefully dispersed.
Protecting & expanding civic space, creating opportunities for participation in decision-making is an indispensable precondition for addressing societies challenges.Matjaž Gruden, Director of Democratic Participation, Council of Europe
Most recently, the police in Turkey used tear gas and fired rubber bullets into a crowd marching in support of LGBTQ+ rights. The participants who, despite the ban imposed by the authorities, marched waving rainbow flags and chanting “Rainbow is not a crime — discrimination is” were pushed and dragged by the police; around 25 people were arrested, including a journalist. The decision to ban the event was justified with concerns over the spread of Covid-19; however, the LGBTQ+ people in Turkey have been prevented from exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly since 2014, and unfortunately, there is no legislation to protect them from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
In neighboring Georgia, what was initially expected to be a five-day celebration of equality and diversity ended in burnt rainbow flags, beaten journalists and vandalized buildings. While discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is illegal, over the years, the government has proven to be ineffective in protecting LGBTQ+ people from societal discrimination and brutality. On July 5th, anti-LGBTQ+ protesters marched in the capital of Georgia, spreading hate speech, assaulting activists and journalists and storming the office of Tbilisi Pride. As a result, amid fears of violence, the LGBTQ+ activists were forced to cancel a planned Pride march. Georgia positions itself on the 104th place in the world in the openness towards gay and lesbian people indicator.
Regrettably, in response to the pandemic, governments all over the world have imposed new measures that affect freedom of assembly, restricting participation in activism and seriously curtailing the role of civil society. Changes in legal status, funding restrictions for organizations, disproportionate reporting requirements, bureaucratic obstacles, and smear campaigns are just some of the barriers youth and other civil society organizations face.
Yet, besides crackdowns on civic space, 2021 is noteworthy for government attempts to introducing anti-LGBTQ+ laws. According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), 2021 has been the worst year for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in the recent history of the United States. Around eighteen anti-LGBTQ+ state bills were signed into the law prohibiting transgender youth from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity or banning medical care for trans youth. In the highly religious county of Ghana, a bill was introduced to impose harsher prison sentences for homosexuality; if passed, it would mean five to ten years of imprisonment for anyone identifying or advocating for LGBTQ+ rights.
Unfortunately, LGBTQ+ rights are systematically undermined, and there is a scarcity of data capturing the marginalization and exclusion faced by the community. However, it is certain that long-term economic and social development cannot be attained without the full inclusion and participation of all groups of the society. Therefore, it’s crucial that decision-makers at all levels proactively protect and respect LGBTQ+ individuals from discrimination and address its root causes. Furthermore, respecting freedom of association, expression, and peaceful assembly, which enables citizens and civil society to play an active role in public life, is essential for driving change and stimulating social progress.
By Sophiko Kurasbediani