International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia 2013
Photo Credit: Sérgio Savarese
A pride parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
On May 17, human rights activists and concerned individuals from around the world will once again mark the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia. However, as awareness of and support for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people expands globally, advocacy groups and individuals have faced pushback in the form of increased violence and stigmatization in many areas—often with dire consequences. Last Friday in the Russian city of Volgograd, 23-year-old Vladislav Tornovoi was tortured and killed, with initial reports indicating that he was attacked after coming out as gay to several companions.
Discrimination and violence against LGBTI people is a worldwide phenomenon. The Trans Murder Monitoring Project’s 2012 global figures show that 265 transgender people were victims of violent killings in the previous 12 months, an increase of almost 20 percent from the preceding year. The intensity and brutality of the violence inflicted on gay men in Iraq is arguably the worst in the world, and the Kuwaiti authorities recently trumpeted the arrest of 215 gay men and lesbians, following a similar operation last year that affected 149 people identified by police as gay or transgender. But these problems are not limited to authoritarian states in Eurasia and the Middle East. Democratic Brazil, home to very public annual gay pride parades, has the highest rate of LGBTI murders in the world. And in the United States, federal government statistics show that the share of hate crimes targeting LGBTI people ranks second only to those motivated by race.
In many countries these sorts of crimes regularly go unpunished or unrecorded, and are rarely classified as hate crimes. Some governments, like Russia’s, not only callously disregard such abuses, but actively encourage prejudice, stigmatization, and adverse stereotyping of LGBTI people.
The old “deviance” arguments still cited by many states to justify the criminalization and persecution of LGBTI individuals or their behavior have been thoroughly discredited in light of scientific information about the nature of sexual orientation and gender identity. Many in the international community have responded accordingly, invoking universal principles of human rights to check ongoing discrimination and violence against LGBTI people around the world. In June 2011, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution sponsored by South Africa, along with 38 other countries, that condemned human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Nevertheless, criminalization and attempts at criminalization have continued, and new homophobic and transphobic tactics have emerged. Some government leaders join intolerant nonstate actors—including certain religious figures—in advancing absurd claims that their young people are being “recruited” into homosexual or transgender “lifestyles.” In Russia, at least 10 regional legislatures have already imposed fines for promoting homosexuality among minors, and a federal bill that would ban “homosexual propaganda” has easily passed its first reading in the lower house of parliament. Uganda’s notorious Bahati Bill, which has teetered on the verge of passage in Uganda’s parliament since 2009, has now been reframed to outlaw the “promotion” of homosexuality and the “inducement of children.” Such efforts should be seen for what they are—brazen attempts to stigmatize and fuel fear and hatred against LGBTI people, often for political reasons.
LGBTI individuals do not seek special rights or privileges. They are simply entitled to the same freedoms and protections that everyone should enjoy under international human rights norms and laws. The most prevalent demands are the rights to free association, free expression, privacy, and authenticity (in other words, the right to be oneself).
A robust concept of human rights extends beyond legal systems to encompass the social practices by which these rights are realized on a daily basis. There is an important distinction between possession of a right, the legal enforceability of that right, and the respect a right receives in practice. Many governments have accepted their obligation to uphold human rights for LGBTI people in law and policy, only to struggle with implementation due to a lack of political will or capacity, or in the face of ongoing societal discrimination. Far worse are the states that have not only denied LGBTI people their basic human rights, but also legitimized and encouraged societal hostility through their laws, policies, and actions.
Freedom House works closely with human rights defenders in a range of political environments around the world to raise awareness, improve recognition of and respect for the human rights of LGBTI people, and address any lack of political will when it comes to enforcement. On May 17 we stand in solidarity with all human rights defenders, including those who identify as LGBTI, as we commit ourselves to the pursuit of a world in which human diversity is honored and valued, and human rights are enjoyed equally by everyone.
Analyses and recommendations offered by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of Freedom House.