The struggle for equality for the LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual) community has been a long and ongoing process. The history of this struggle is marked by significant milestones and achievements, as well as setbacks and ongoing challenges.
In the ongoing struggle for equality and acceptance, the LGBTQIA community has encountered numerous legal barriers throughout history. These barriers, ranging from discriminatory laws to oppressive regulations, have posed formidable challenges to the pursuit of equal rights.
However, the story of progress is also one of resilience and activism, as some laws that once restricted and marginalised the LGBTQIA community have gradually been dismantled.
By understanding the historical context surrounding these laws and their eventual removal, we can appreciate the tremendous courage and determination it took to challenge societal norms and pave the way for greater equality and acceptance.
This article explores the LGBTQIA path toward recognizing equal rights as an occasion to deepen our knowledge and inspire everyone to continue supporting the ongoing battle for full equality.
Early Activism (Late 19th and Early 20th Century)
The roots of the activism for LGBTQIA rights go back to the late 19th and early 20th century, with the emergence of organisations and individuals advocating for decriminalisation and social acceptance. One of the earliest LGBTQIA rights organisations, the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, for example, was founded in Germany in 1897.
In the United States, instead, the first known gay rights organisation in the country, the Society for Human Rights, was established in 1924.
Stonewall Riots (1969)
The turning point in the LGBTQIA rights movement is generally identified with the Stonewall Riots, which occurred in New York City in June 1969.
The background to the riots is strictly connected to the amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which repealed the previous Eighteenth Amendment, which had established a nationwide ban on the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol.
The riots started after a police raid at the Stonewall Inn, a famous gay bar. They sparked a wave of protests and activism, leading to the formation of numerous LGBTQIA organisations across the United States.
Because the Stonewall Riots of June 1969 are symbolically considered the birth moment of the modern gay liberation movement worldwide, June 28th, and the month of June in general, has been chosen by the LGBTQIA movement as the date of ‘World LGBTQIA Pride Day’.
Criminalisation and Decriminalisation of Homosexuality
For centuries, LGBTQIA individuals have been subject to legal condemnation, but it was during the colonial period that laws explicitly criminalising their existence proliferated.
As European states expanded their dominance across vast territories, they exported their discriminatory criminal laws, which contributed to the intensification of the legal proscriptions faced by the LGBTQIA community.
Among the sources of such criminalisation, British law stands out as the most extensive one. Consequently, British colonialism played a significant role in disseminating provisions that criminalised same-sex sexual activity in its colonies.
As a matter of fact, many of the countries that currently criminalise LGBTQIA individuals can trace the origins of their laws back to Britain, either as former colonies or through historical connections like ‘protectorate’ relationships. These provisions encompass terms such as ‘buggery,’ ‘unnatural offences,’ ‘indecency,’ and gender expression-related laws like those targeting ‘cross-dressing,’ which all have roots in British colonial law.
Conversely, France and Spain, influenced by the Napoleonic code, which did not criminalise same-sex sexual activity, had a comparatively lesser impact in terms of anti-LGBTQIA laws during their colonial reigns.
Another notable source of criminalisation arises from interpretations of Islamic law. Several countries that still criminalise LGBTQIA individuals do so not through inherited colonial laws but rather through strict interpretations of Sharia. Although less prevalent, the penalties in these cases tend to be more severe, and the death penalty is imposed or at least legally possible in many countries.
Criminalisation entails a range of detrimental consequences for the LGBTQIA community. Primarily, it subjects LGBTQIA individuals to the risk of lawful arrest, detention, and prosecution solely based on their inherent identity and existence.
In addition, the act of criminalising LGBTQIA individuals clearly violates international human rights law.
By criminalising their existence, not only is the right to non-discrimination violated, but numerous other fundamental rights are also infringed upon. These include the rights to privacy, legal recognition, humane treatment, freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, among many others.
In recent decades, there has been a noticeable global trend toward decriminalizing same-sex intimacy. Since the early 1990s, nearly 50 countries have enacted decriminalisation measures, while many others had done so earlier in the twentieth century. Additionally, some countries have never criminalised same-sex sexual activity throughout their history.
The majority of countries have achieved decriminalisation through legislative reforms, as governments actively took steps to repeal discriminatory laws or avoid including criminalising provisions in new legislation pertaining to criminal offenses.
However, a smaller subset of countries has accomplished decriminalisation through litigation, where successful legal challenges have prompted courts to deem the criminalising provisions unlawful.
Current challenges (Late 20th Century and Early 21st Century)
In the ongoing pursuit of equality and inclusivity, the LGBTQIA+ community continues to advocate for a range of fundamental rights.
While significant progress has been made in recent years, there are still crucial areas where activism and advocacy remain essential.
There is a range of pressing topics that are at the forefront of the current battles for LGBTQIA+ rights encompassing from anti-discrimination laws and hate crime protections to the fight for marriage equality, transgender rights, as well as adoption and parenting rights.
The background to the need for anti-discrimination laws is to be found in the circumstance that lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and gender-diverse individuals face ongoing marginalization and exclusion from various sectors, such as education, healthcare, housing, employment, and more, due to discriminatory laws and socio-cultural norms. This atmosphere of exclusion fosters violence and discrimination while also creating disparities in opportunity and resource accessibility.
In a joint statement issued in 2015, twelve UN entities voiced their worries regarding these matters, calling for an end to violence and discrimination against the LGBTQIA community.
They underlined how the ongoing exclusion of LGBTI individuals from the development, execution, and evaluation of laws and policies that impact them further sustains their social and economic marginalization.
Furthermore, the OHCHR draws attention to the fact that social bias and misunderstandings regarding the LGBTQIA community are brought to light mainly through political campaigns, parliamentary debates, and public demonstrations worldwide. Another primary concern is the emerging trend of ultraconservative and ultranationalist groups that are actively undermining the rights of sexual and gender minorities, hindering progress and impeding the implementation of inclusive laws and policies.
The joint statement of 2015 serves as a strong urging for governments to take decisive action in addressing the issue of homophobic and transphobic violence, discrimination, and mistreatment of intersex individuals. It also highlights UN entities’ dedication to supporting member states in their efforts to combat these injustices.
The discrimination faced by LGBTI individuals contradicts the fundamental human rights principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Despite a legal framework designed to combat discrimination, including towards LGBTQIA individuals, acts of discrimination continue to persist in various forms. Homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic mindsets remain deeply ingrained within numerous cultures worldwide.
Under international human rights law, every nation is responsible for upholding and safeguarding all individuals’ human rights without any form of discrimination. However, in numerous countries, there is a lack of laws that effectively protect LGBTQIA individuals from exposure to, among others, hate crimes and discrimination.
Contrary to common belief, there is no real need to create new human rights laws or standards to protect LGBTI individuals from violence and discrimination. States are, in fact, already legally obligated to safeguard the human rights of LGBTI people as this obligation stems from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights treaties.
However, it is to be noted that in recent years, there has been notable progress in many states in terms of enhancing human rights protection for LGBTI individuals. These advancements include the decriminalization of same-sex relations, the implementation of laws against discrimination, the introduction of penalties for hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the recognition of same-sex relationships, and the facilitation of obtaining identity documents that accurately reflect preferred gender.
Additionally, efforts have been made to provide training programs for various professionals, such as police, prison staff, teachers, social workers, and caregivers, to serve the needs of the LGBTI community better. Anti-bullying initiatives have also been established in numerous schools. These collective measures signify a positive shift towards greater inclusivity and promoting LGBTI rights.
Marriage equality and civil partnership
Same-sex marriage and civil partnerships are legal frameworks that provide recognition and rights to same-sex couples. While they share similarities, there are also important legal differences between the two.
Same-sex marriage grants full legal recognition to a couple’s union, with the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexual marriages. It typically includes access to benefits such as inheritance rights, tax benefits, healthcare decision-making, and parental rights.
On the other hand, civil partnerships offer a legal status that provides many of the same legal rights and protections as marriage but without the historical and cultural connotations associated with marriage. As a matter of fact, civil partnerships were initially introduced as an alternative to marriage for same-sex couples, offering legal recognition and protection without the term “marriage.”
The specific legal differences between same-sex marriage and civil partnerships vary by country and jurisdiction. In some places, civil partnerships may have fewer legal rights or may not be recognised as widely as same-sex marriages. Therefore, it’s essential to consult local laws and regulations to understand the exact rights and differences between these two legal frameworks in a particular jurisdiction.
To give a broad idea of the timeline in this area of the law, Denmark became the first country to legalise same-sex partnerships in 1989, while the Netherlands became the first country to legalise same-sex marriage in 2001. To conclude this analysis, as of 2023, marriage between same-sex couples is legally performed and recognised in 34 countries, while other countries around the world recognise same-sex civil unions.
Transgender people legal needs
The word “transgender” (or trans) is a broad term which indicates people whose gender identity is different from the sex assigned at birth.
Despite growing visibility, transgender individuals continue to confront significant discrimination, stigmatisation, and systemic inequities. In addition to the challenges shared with the LGBTQIA+ community in general, there is one distinct issue that specifically affects the transgender community, i.e. the absence of comprehensive legislation addressing the topic of identification documents.
This gap in systematic laws governing ID documents exacerbates the unique struggles and vulnerabilities experienced by transgender individuals.
Legal gender recognition (LGR) enables individuals who are transgender or gender-diverse to modify the gender marker and names on their official identity documents. This is not an issue of secondary importance as discrepancies between an individual’s self-identified gender and the information stated on the official records can often impose significant obstacles, impeding people’s ability to access healthcare, education, employment, and public services. By way of example, discrepancies in the voter register can impede the exercise of voting rights.
Notably, approximately twelve countries worldwide have enacted laws allowing gender-neutral passports. In such countries, the inclusion of an ‘X’ gender designation on these passports signifies that the holder’s gender identity does not align with the traditional binary system.
Adoption and parenting rights
Adoption and parenting rights for LGBTQIA individuals and couples vary significantly around the world, reflecting the diverse legal and social landscapes in different countries. In some progressive nations, LGBTQIA individuals and couples have full adoption and parenting rights equivalent to those of heterosexual couples. They can adopt children, become foster parents, or access assisted reproductive technologies to start families.
Conversely, in many other countries, LGBTQIA individuals face legal barriers and discrimination that restrict their ability to adopt children or become parents. Some countries explicitly prohibit same-sex couples or LGBTQIA individuals from adopting children, while others have ambiguous or restrictive policies that make the process challenging.
In conclusion, as we have delved into the main challenges and legal battles faced by the LGBTQIA community, it becomes evident that progress has been made, but there is still work to be done. By staying informed and engaged on this topic, we actively contribute to fostering a more inclusive world.
Knowledge is power, and by keeping ourselves updated on the issues and advancements concerning the LGBTQ+ community, we can become advocates for change. We should never stop educating ourselves, challenge stereotypes, and promote equality. Together, we can create a future where every individual is embraced and celebrated for who they are.
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