As HRC celebrates Human Rights Day and the 71st anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we are looking back on progress made this year for LGBTQ equality around the world and reflecting on some of the setbacks and challenges LGBTQ people faced. 

Here are a few trends HRC Global has been tracking throughout 2019: 

Fewer places criminalize LGBTQ people. 

There are two fewer countries in which LGBTQ people are criminalized for who they are or whom they love. Many of these laws -- currently in 68 countries -- are vestiges of colonial penal codes. This year, Angola adopted a new penal code that overrode a ban on “vices against nature,” effectively decriminalizing same-sex sexual relations. In Botswana, HRC Global Innovator Tashwill Esterhuizen led litigation that led the High Court to void as unconsitutional  laws criminalizing same-sex sexual relations. 

However, not all developments were positive. In April, Brunei enacted a penal code that made same-sex relations, as well as adultery, punishable by stoning. And in May, the Kenyan High Court let stand multiple laws criminalizing LGBTQ people, but advocates are appealing this decision.

Marriage equality expands.

In 2019, same-sex couples won marriage equality in AustriaTaiwanEcuador and Northern Ireland through the courts and legistures. Taiwan, with the leadership of HRC Global Innovator Jennifer Lu, became the first country in Asia to legalize marriage between same-sex couples.

International institutions that have ruled in favor of marriage equality and recognition of foreign marriages between same-sex couples at a regional level in Latin America and Europe, respectively, have provided a powerful tool for organizing for equality. In Bulgaria, HRC Global Fellow Denitsa Lyubenova was on the frontlines, successfully supporting litigation to recognize a same-sex married couple.

Anti-LGBTQ violence grows.

Violence against LGBTQ people, in particular transgender people, continues to be a grave challenge worldwide. Throughout this year, HRC has worked closely with partners in country to sound the alarm about attacks and murders of LGBTQ activists, assaults on LGBTQ people at Pride events and murders of transgender women. Towards the end of the year, Uganda’s LGBTQ community has seen a troubling surge in anti-LGBTQ violence and arrests. 

The Trump-Pence administration continues to willfully disregard LGBTQ rights globally.

With its silence and inaction, the Trump-Pence administration is abandoning LGBTQ people at home and abroad. Instead, the State Department has convened a potentially dangerous new “Commission on Unalienable Rights,” which HRC is closely tracking.

This administration has also made it more difficult for refugees and immigrants to come to the U.S., issuing numerous executive orders and policies to block people from entering the country -- preventing individuals from escaping anti-LGBTQ violence and putting them at further risk. 

International institutions renew commitments to the human rights of LGBTQ people.

In 2019, advocates worked with international institutions to expand the human rights of LGBTQ people. At the U.N., HRC collaborated with partners to secure the renewal of the mandate of the Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. 

Advocates have pushed for progress after previously securing victories through other international institutions. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has taken action to provide a pathway for marriage equality and legal gender recognition throughout the Americas. The European Court of Justice issued a decision requiring recognition of same-sex EU citizens’ marriages by countries in the EU for the purposes of immigration benefits and rights.

This Human Rights Day, we celebrate our successes, recognize our setbacks and renew our commitment to achieving a world where everyone is able to be themselves. We know that it will take the full commitment, talents and passions of LGBTQ advocates to continue to advance equality in the coming years, and we are optimistic about the future. 

For more information about HRC’s work around the world, subscribe to our quarterly newsletter and visit hrc.org/Global.  


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