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2015 Was A Breakthrough Year For Sexual Diversity

LGBT parade in front of La Moneda, Santiago de Chile in 2009. In 2015 Chile became the seventh South American country to recognise same-sex unions. PHOTO: By CiudadanoGay (Picasa) [CC BY 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

LGBT parade in front of La Moneda, Santiago de Chile in 2009. In 2015 Chile became the seventh South American country to recognise same-sex unions. PHOTO: By CiudadanoGay (Picasa) [CC BY 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

2015 has been a breakthrough year in the field of LGBTI rights and sexual diversity around the globe, especially as regards equal marriage and same-sex unions.

The first news came with the arrival of the summer in Ireland—a predominantly Catholic country where homosexuality was not decriminalized until 1993—where on May 22, citizens were called to vote on the question of whether marriage, according to law, may be contracted between two persons without distinction as to their sex. Ireland’s voters gave a majority of 62% in favour of the recognition of equal marriage, becoming the first country in the world to recognize marriage between same-sex couples by popular vote.

A month later, on June 26, social networks around the world lit up with the hashtag #LoveWins, referring to the judgment of the Supreme Court of the United States in Obergefell versus Hodges case, which ruled that all States have an obligation to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. As Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote of the historic decision:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. (…) Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

A few weeks later, on 21 July, the European Court of Human Rights found that the refusal of Italy to provide a legal framework for the recognition and protection of same-sex unions violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which holds that everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life. This is perhaps the most important international judicial victory in the field of LGBTI rights since the case Toonen v. Australia resulted in the repeal of the last Australian laws prohibiting sodomy. This followed the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s 1994 ruling that sex between consenting adults in private were protected by the concept of “private life” contained in Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

SCOTUS Marriage Equality 2015:  Supreme Court of the United States ends marriage discrimination. PHOTO: Ted Eytan (CC BY-SA 2.0)

SCOTUS Marriage Equality 2015: Supreme Court of the United States ends marriage discrimination. PHOTO: Ted Eytan (CC BY-SA 2.0)

On 22 October this year, Chile also celebrated its first civil unions for same-sex couples, becoming the seventh South American country to legally recognize same-sex unions. Long gone were the sad years of President Ibañez del Campo, whose homophobia was notorious and avowed and where raids and mass arrests of homosexuals resulted in their admission to a concentration camp for “social misfits” and homosexuals in Pisagua in the north of the country. Long in the past too is the homophobia of Clarin, a sensationalistic left-wing newspaper associated with Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity party, whose headlines denigrated homosexuals and trans people.

Recognition of equal rights also extended this year to adoption by same-sex couples. In a historic ruling on November 4, the Colombian constitutional court instructed adoption agencies not to discriminate against same-sex couples. After nine hours of debate, the court gave the go-ahead for same-sex couples to legally adopt children. “A person's sexual orientation or gender is not itself indicative of a lack of moral, physical or mental suitability to adopt,” said the court’s chief justice, Maria Victoria Calle Correa. Five years after legalizing same-sex marriage, Portugal also legalized adoption by same-sex couples. On 23 September, 2015, parties from the leftist majority in Parliament submitted bills to grant same-sex couples full adoption rights as well as access to intro-vitro fertilisation. The bills were approved on 20 November and now await promulgation by the President.

But while 2015 was a year of major victories for many, these developments have had little effect on the “T” and the “I” of the LGBTI community. The transgender and intersex communities still face staggering challenges and equal marriage, in most cases, does not improve their lives by much. At present neither group operates on an equal playing field with other people; they face huge disparities in employment and health care access, and experience undue levels of harassment and violence.

For intersex people, it has sadly become common practice to subject intersex children to unnecessary surgical and other procedures in order to make their appearance conform to binary sex stereotypes. These often irreversible procedures can cause permanent infertility, pain, incontinence, loss of sexual sensation, and lifelong mental suffering, and they are regularly performed without the full, free and informed consent of the person concerned.

In April 2009, the international NGO Transgender Europe, in collaboration with the multilingual online journal Liminalis, started a research project collecting, monitoring, and analyzing reports of murders of trans people worldwide. Since the beginning of 2008, the murder of a trans person is reported every three days, on average. According to Transgender Europe’s Trans Murder Monitoring project, between October 2014 and September 2015 at least 271 killings of trans people were reported—that’s one every 36 hours.

On 20 November the 16th annual Transgender Day of Rememberance took place. The observance began in 1999 in response to the death of Rita Hester, a trans woman of color killed in Massachusetts in 1998. Every year since, growing numbers of trans people and advocates worldwide take a moment to pause and remember the countless lives lost around the globe to transphobic violence. These drastic figures have led some trans activists and allies to propose a reframing of the annual day of mourning as the Transgender Day of Resilience instead. As the trans journalist Claire-Renee Kohner wrote in Bustle:

Transwomen are the most visible on the trans-spectrum and it’s easy to forget that transmen exist and experience a greater level of erasure than us women. Transman Michael Hughes, who brought the recent influx of bathroom bill legislation into perspective by posting selfies of himself in a women’s restroom, told Bustle, “I'm glad there's a ‘day’ that people new to the table, new to these conversations, can get involved. But like you, I feel every day is a day of visibility for us; It's 24/7/365 for trans people.”

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