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LGBT's continuing efforts to turn the tide...

Updated: May 26

✦ It has been almost a year since we focused on the state of affairs facing the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community and its ongoing challenge to achieve full acceptance and equality in society.

Last October we ran two concurrent stories exploring LGBT history month and challenges for LGBT athletes in the global professional sports environment. Almost 12 months on we wanted to revisit the topic to determine what, if any, progress has been made since.

On first glance its encouragingly apparent that positive strides have been made in certain quarters. On August 21st, Singapore’s government finally agreed to repeal a colonial-era law criminalising gay sex, much to the joy of campaigners. The penal code ruling that denied sexual relations between men was inherited from the British colonial era, with a penalty of up to two years in jail for offenders. The draconian law was very much at odds with the Lion State’s image of a modern, vibrant, multi-cultural society, something the government has worked hard to push during recent decades. Campaigners said as much, twice launching appeals to have the ruling reversed only to be rebuffed on both occasions.

However, during a policy speech on August 21st, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong conceded the law would be repealed as attitudes have shifted in the past 15 years, claiming gay people “are now better accepted” locally, especially among younger Singaporeans.

Policies for LGBT people are starting to open now featured on Brilliant Online
Policies for LGBT people are starting to open now
“It is timely to ask ourselves again the fundamental question: Should sex between men in private be a criminal offence?” Lee said in a report from AFP. “The government will repeal section 377A and decriminalise sex between men. I believe this is the right thing to do, and something that most Singaporeans will now accept. This will bring the law into line with current social mores, and I hope, provide some relief to gay Singaporeans.”

The ruling was classed as the “first step on a long road towards full equality for LGBTQ+ people in Singapore,” by gay rights campaigners. However, it came with a somewhat bitter twist as Lee also confirmed that the government was stopping short of allowing same sex marriage, stating most Singaporeans did not want change in how marriage is defined and how it is taught in schools.

“We will uphold and safeguard the institution of marriage,” he said. “Only marriages between one man and one woman are recognised in Singapore.”

LGBT community has ongoing challenges as featured in Brilliant-Online
‘Homosexuality cannot be cured’ according to a report by The Diplomat

Campaigners complained that the ruling being upheld was down to serious pressure from religious conservatives and pointed to the likes of Taiwan who reversed age-old rulings preventing marriage equality in the hope the Singaporean government may one day soon change their minds. Taiwan took the unprecedented decision in May 2021 to legalise same-sex marriage, becoming the first place in Asia to do so.

Read our story: It's ok to be Queer

‘Homosexuality cannot be cured’

Elsewhere, there were positive steps witnessed in Vietnam where on August 3rd the Health Ministry instructed doctors to stop treating homosexuality as a disease, and to cease discrimination in medical care.

It published a document stating that “homosexuality cannot be ‘cured’, does not need ‘to be cured’ and cannot be changed,” according to a report by The Dilopmat.

“Do not consider homosexuality, bisexuality or being transgender a disease,” the report instructed. “Do not coerce members of these groups into medical treatment. If any, only provide psychiatric help, which must be conducted by experts with knowledge of gender identities.” When undertaking medical care for homosexual, bisexual, and transsexual patients, health providers “must be fair and respectful of their sexuality and must not discriminate against these groups,” it added.

It was regarded as a significant step forwards in the battle for sexual equality in a country often perceived to possess somehwat provincial attitudes towards the subject. A report in 2020 by Human Rights Watch highlighted how children are often taught by both teachers and parents that being gay is a mental illness and young LGBTQ people continue to “face stigma and discrimination at home and at school.”

Young LGBTQ people continue to “face stigma and discrimination at home and at school.", as featured on Brilliant Online
Young LGBTQ people continue to “face stigma and discrimination at home and at school."

It is examples like this that continue to highlight the struggle and ongoing challenges faced by the global LGBT community. Sure, much progress has and continues to be made but there is still a huge way to go, something emphasised recently the United Nation’s Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, after a 10-day visit to the United States to compile a report.

Madrigal-Borloz met with over 70 federal, state and local representatives, more than 100 civil society representatives and people with “lived experience” in the LGBT community as part of his tour. On September 3rd his report stated that “equality is not yet within reach and in many cases not within sight” for LGBT communities, adding that he is “extremely concerned” about a concerted series of actions at the state and local level based “on prejudice and stigma, to attack and to rollback the rights of LGBT persons.” He further explained that the LGBT community suffers in regards to access to health, employment, education and housing and that 20.3% of hate crimes were related to sexual orientation or gender identity bias.

Madrigal-Borloz warned that the recent Roe versus Wade ruling could have a detrimental impact in overturning other precedents specific to the LGBT community, especially if gay marriage was outlawed and homosexuality became a criminal act, as it currently is in more than 65 countries.

Fresh challenges

Further incidents have occurred that pose fresh challenges to the LGBT community, or rather enhance negative stigmas against certain sections of this group. After the carnage of COVID-19, the last thing anyone wanted was the spectre of another virus looming large, something that Monkeypox initially threatened to be. Thankfully, despite over 25,000 cases being reported globally since early May of this year, it does not appear to pose the same threat as the coronavirus. However, it is still very much significant enough that the World Health Organization (WHO) recently declared the situation a global health emergency.

“While anyone can get monkeypox, the current outbreak is overwhelmingly affecting sexually active gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men... [and] 98% of these infections had occurred in this group,” says a report in The Conversation. Medical experts have cautioned people in this demographic to take care and use protection, limit the number sexual partners and seek vaccination if they believe they are affected.

Health is an important foundation for LGBT people featured on Brilliant Online
Health is an important foundation for LGBT people

In the Middle East, an area not renowned for its tolerance of equality, challenges for the LGBT community continue seemingly unabated. Human Rights Watch reports how a recent bill submitted to Parliament in Iraq proposes to “punish any individual or group who advocates for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people”, something that is reportedly gaining momentum with parliament members. Anyone who advocates for LGBT rights or “promotes homosexuality” would face imprisonment up to one year, and a fine of up to five million dinars (US$3,430). Media companies and civil society organisations that “promote homosexuality” would also have their licenses suspended for up to one month, the bill says.

Similarly, Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia earlier this month threatened Netflix with legal action if they broadcast content considered offensive to the values of Islam by “depicting sexual minorities”. Tragically, Zahra Hamadani and Elham Chubdar, two LGBT rights activists in Iran, were sentenced to death by authorities on September 5th for their support of the country’s LGBT community which was deemed as “corruption on Earth”.

Shocking incidents like this make for depressing reading and truly hammer home the point that, while progress is being made in certain quarters, there is still a gargantuan effort ahead before people of a certain sexual preference or gender identification can be considered what they are: equal human beings.

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