Ever since 1999 when former US President Bill Clinton declared June “Gay and Lesbian” Pride Month in the US, nations around the world have used this month to celebrate those who have historically been marginalized due to their sexual and gender expression. Our collective understanding of gender and sexuality has expanded since the late ’90s, and now we not only celebrate gay and lesbian individuals but also bisexual, transgender, intersex, asexual, queer folks, and others who don’t fit within strict heteronormative ideals.
For lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) people, being open about their sexuality or gender expression can often be a dangerous endeavor that may expose them to discrimination violence, oppression, abuse, or stigma. Research shows that LGBTQ+ people are at increased risk for violence, sexual assault, and discrimination due to their identity — on both a micro-level with abuse from individuals and a state-level with systematic obstacles to their basic rights. This map by Human Rights Watch (HRW) details state-level laws in different countries that harm LGBTQ+ people and prevent them from equally accessing basic rights and services.
The queer community has had a particularly difficult two years with the onset of COVID-19 in 2020 and waves of increased marginalization that came with it. Annual PRIDE marches were canceled. The clubs and spaces where queer folks may find support and like-minded individuals were shut down, effectively forcing many people back into the closet as their main social outlets were ripped away. For those living with unsupportive family members, this often meant hiding and suppressing their identity — a choice that can negatively impact people’s mental health. Online channels for LGBTQ+ communication were also wiped out in China, just as LGBTQ+ people and women were scapegoated for the country’s declining birth rate and other social problems.
Increasing global conservatism is infringing on hard-won rights the LGBTQ+ community has fought for. But the community is not taking these infractions lying down. All over the world, LGBTQ+ individuals and allies took to the streets to resist authoritarianism and protect their rights. From Azerbaijan and Turkey to Thailand and Brazil, protests, awareness campaigns, and acts of civil disobedience signaled that queer folks will not stand for continued marginalization.
Some anti-LGBTQ+ governments try to diminish local queer activist movements by framing them as new “Western ideals,” that are part of the modern-day “woke culture” in reality, throughout history, most cultures around the world independently developed a range of nuanced sexualities and expanded gender expressions. In North American Indigenous communities there are two-spirit people, a term for those who identify beyond the male-female gender binary. In Indonesia, there are the waria, a term for people who are born male but live along a continuum of gender identity. Different groups in the African continent also had a wide range of sexual and gender expressions before they were forced to abandon these traditions under Western colonial rule.
But even as some LGBTQ+ groups fight for their rights and identities, there have also been cases of progress and increasing tolerance. Argentina is including questions on gender identity and ethnicity on its census this year, which is a major step in getting LGBTQ+ folks equal rights and access in the public sphere. Jowelle De Souza was the first openly transgender woman to serve in Trinidad and Tobago’s parliament when she was appointed as a temporary senator for a day.
Global Voices is partnering this year with the Berlin-based Disruption Network Lab to explore the issues of transitioning and hear voices from Ukraine, Taiwan, Western Europe, and the US who share their challenges and achievements in their journey towards visibility, equal rights, and artistic expression.
For other resources about LGBTQ+rights and identities, see this map created by PBS exploring the range of historic gender expressions around the world.
To read more about the state of LGBTQ+ rights in 2022, see our coverage below.
Stories about Pride 2022: Community resistance from April, 2022
Tbilisi City Court has convicted 20 far-right activists for the attacks on at least 53 media workers and others during the aborted Pride March in Tbilisi on 5 July 2021.