11 glimmers of hope for LGBT rights in 2017

Rainbow flag 2

Hopeful steps toward recognition of LGBT rights occurred this year in many otherwise homophobic countries, even as brutal anti-LGBT crackdowns were under way elsewhere.

Below are thumbnail descriptions of encouraging developments in 11 nations, regions, and international organizations. (For the grimmer side of 2017, watch for an upcoming article.)

INDIA

Protest against India's anti-gay Section 377. (Photo courtesy of The Quint)
Protest against India’s anti-gay Section 377. (Photo courtesy of The Quint)

Indian Supreme Court ruling might overturn anti-LGBT law. India’s Supreme Court has raised hopes that it might overturn its own 2013 ruling that reinstated the country’s anti-homosexuality law. The reason for that optimism is that the court in 2017 declared privacy to be a fundamental right, a finding that the court itself indicated could lead to a renewed, stronger legal challenge to its 2013 ruling.

LEBANON

Lebanon court rejects anti-gay law. A lower court in Lebanon ruled this year that homosexuality is natural and therefore not a criminal offense. That ruling chips away at the country’s anti-LGBT stance, but isn’t as far-reaching as if Lebanon’s highest court had made it.

GAMBIA

Gambian President Adama Barrow (Photo courtesy of the Daily Mail)
Gambian President Adama Barrow (Photo courtesy of the Daily Mail)

LGBT hopes in Africa  In the Gambia, new President Adama Barrow took over from his violently homophobic predecessor, Yahya Jammeh. Although the country’s anti-gay law has not been repealed, it apparently is no longer being enforced. This month the country’s Jollof News printed an interview with Vivian Affoah, a local media expert who stated:

“There are no reported incidents of state-perpetrated online abuse or attacks on the basis of gender or sexuality. This government may have a softer stance on sexual diversity. President Barrow was recently asked about his position on homosexuality and he indicated that it was “not an issue in The Gambia.”

(Also see “Gambian leader shuns his predecessor’s anti-gay stance.”)

Page 1 article in the Gleaner of Oct. 13, 2017, about Archbishop John Holder's speech. (Colin Stewart's photo, John Holder's thumb)
Article in the Observer of Jamaica about Archbishop John Holder’s speech. (Colin Stewart’s photo, John Holder’s thumb)

JAMAICA

Jamaica still clings to its anti-gay “buggery law,” but voices favoring repeal are getting louder.

Jamaica newspaper seeks reversal of anti-gay law. Jamaica’s largest newspaper  endorsed activist Maurice Tomlinson’s constitutional challenge against that law.  Legal proceedings in that case are still in a preliminary stage.

Top Anglican in Jamaican seeks repeal of buggery law. The Rt. Rev. Dr. Howard Gregory,  leader of the Anglican Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, declared his opposition to the law.

Jamaica celebrates Pride twice a year — a national celebration in August and a second celebration in October in Montego Bay.

Church leaders target anti-gay laws, especially in the Commonwealth. An October 2017  conference in Jamaica focused on the damage  that has been done by churches’ past role in helping to impose anti-LGBT laws in dozens of Commonwealth countries. The conference’s keynote speaker was Archbishop John Holder, who presented a biblical case for decriminalization of homosexuality.  In that deeply religious country, tens of thousands of Jamaican could read about his compassionate biblical analysis on Page 1 of Jamaica’s largest newspaper.

TRINIDAD

Jason Jones (Photo courtesy of St. Lucia Times)
Jason Jones (Photo courtesy of St. Lucia Times)

Legal challenge confronts Trinidad’s anti-gay laws. LGBTI rights activist Jason Jones has filed suit to overturn anti-gay laws in Trinidad and Tobago. As with the Jamaican case, the Trinidad proceedings are still at a preliminary stage.

THE CARIBBEAN

LGBTQI coalition gears up in eastern Caribbean. A new coalition of LGBTQI organizations in the eastern Caribbean is setting its sights on improving the lives of the region’s sexual minorities. The Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality Inc. (ECADE) was launched late last year,

Caribbean trans activists form advocacy group. Eight transgender activists from the Bahamas, Haiti, Jamaica, Guyana and Antigua formed a new Caribbean advocacy initiative, the Transgender Caucus Group. Its initial organizational meeting was held during the Caribbean Women and Sexual Diversity Conference (CWSDC) on Saint Lucia, which was organized by ECADE.

LGBT rights activists in Cameroon meet to plan their national human rights monitoring project.
LGBT rights activists in Cameroon met in Yaoundé to plan their national human rights monitoring project.

CAMEROON

In Cameroon, LGBT groups start working together — at last. Many LGBT rights advocates in Cameroon are cooperating on a human rights monitoring project.

TUNISIA

Graphic from Shams, which seeks the repeal of Tunisia's Article 230.
Graphic from the organization Shams (Arabic for “sun”), which seeks the repeal of Tunisia’s anti-gay Article 230.

New coalition in Tunisia fights for LGBTQI rights. Twenty LGBTQI and allied activist associations formed a coalition fighting for LGBTQI rights in Tunisia.

Police continue to arrest sexual minorities under the country’s repressive anti-LGBT law, but the defendants have many supporters.

Activist group Shams wins in court.Shams, a prominent Tunisian group pushing for the decriminalization of homosexuality, turned back a legal challenge by opponents who argued that the government should withdraw the group’s official recognition and force it to shut down.

Tunisia drops anal tests, but not its anti-gay law. The country pledged to the United Nations that it would no longer impose forced anal exams, which had been used (as in many homophobic societies) as a supposed test for homosexual activity by male defendants.

NIGERIA

Scene from
Scene from Nigerian video series “With or Without”

Anti-LGBT violence and harassment remain severe problems, but Nigerian society is slowly becoming less scared and less hateful toward LGBT people.

Survey: Nigerians grow more tolerant of LGBT people. A recent survey found that Nigerians have become a bit more tolerant of LGBT people. In the latest survey, 39% said  they should have equal access to healthcare, housing and education — a 9% increase from the 2015 survey.

A surprise: Nigerian drama portrays gay love positively. Amidst great hostility toward homosexuals, a new mainstream Nigerian online video series dares to portray love between two men.

COMMONWEALTH OF NATIONS

Former British colonies inch toward LGBTI rights. The Commonwealth of Nations, comprising 52 countries that mostly were former British colonies, has granted legal recognition to an LGBTI group for the first time. Overall, the group has a poor record on LGBTI rights — of the 52 countries in the Commonwealth, 36 have laws against consensual same-sex intimacy.

AFRICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN AND PEOPLES’ RIGHTS

Logo of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights. (Click on the image to donate to Justice 4 Eric Lembembe)
Logo of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Progress toward defending sexual minorities in Africa. Africa’s continent-wide human rights commission — the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights — has started taking abuses of LGBT people seriously. Although 33 of its member countries have laws against homosexual activity, the commission has started pushing for recognition of the human rights of LGBT people. That pressure comes in the form of resolutions and guidelines, which don’t have the force of law but are influential throughout most of Africa.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, and editor/publisher of Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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