As 2015 begins, The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, takes a closer look at a few of the many countries where the fight for equality is making progress, as well as those where the fundamental rights of LGBT people are increasingly under attack.
In 2014 President Yahya Jammeh took The Gambia’s criminalization of same-sex relations a step further, signing into law a draconian measure further criminalizing being gay with the possibility of life imprisonment. After the law was passed, Jammeh’s security forces immediately began detaining individuals suspected of being LGBT, and forcing them to name others. As a result of this and other human rights abuses, the White House suspended The Gambia’s eligibility for trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA). As Jammeh’s crackdown against the LGBT community continues, he could face greater international pressure in 2015.
In 2014 Egyptian police forces increased their crackdown against individuals suspected of being LGBT, as part of a political calculation by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. In the fall of 2014, eight men were arrested and sentenced for participating in a YouTube video that government authorities claimed depicted a same-sex wedding. Later in 2014, police raided a public bath house, and arrested 26 men in Cairo. Though all 26 men were acquitted on January 12, the crackdown against LGBT Egyptians continues to be a major concern in the new year.
Though Uganda’s “Anti-Homosexuality Act” was overturned in August on procedural grounds, there are indications that some Ugandan politicians are still looking to push through another bill. According to a leaked draft of the bill, the proposed legislation criminalizes the “promotion” of “unnatural sexual practice,” and there are fears that this would spark an even greater backlash against the LGBT community.
In the 18 months since the passage of Russia’s anti-LGBT “propaganda” law, the situation for LGBT Russians has significantly deteriorated. As detailed in reports by HRC, Human Rights First, and most recently by Human Rights Watch, LGBT people are facing more violence, discrimination, and humiliation. Already this year, the Russian government has decided torestrict transgender people, among others, from obtaining driving licenses. The impact of Russia’s actions has been felt beyond its borders in countries such as Kyrgyzstan, which are seeking to pass copycat laws.
In an initial vote in October, the Kyrgyz National Assembly passed a new anti-LGBT law, modeled on Russia’s anti-LGBT “propaganda” law. The proposed Kyrgyzstan law goes even further than its Russian counterpart and punishes the offense with harsher punishments, including jail time. In the coming year the bill could be put to additional votes in parliament.
Slovakia is set to vote on a national referendum on the definition of marriage on February 7, 2015. Though parliament already altered the Slovak constitution earlier this year to define marriage as between a man and a woman, this referendum would reinforce that decision. Among other questions, the referendum will ask voters whether they agree that marriage is exclusively a union between a man and a woman and whether same-sex couples should be permitted to adopt children. In order for the referendum to be considered binding 50 percent of eligible voters must turn out to vote.
In October 2013 the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah––who is the absolute ruler of Brunei and is one of the world’s wealthiest people––announced that Brunei’s penal codes would be updated with new draconian measures, which include the stoning of LGBT people, and women. The changes to the penal code will be implemented through a three phase plan. The first phase went into effect in April 2014.
In September 2014, a draft bill was introduced that would make same-sex relations a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison. According to reports, the legislation was proposed by the cabinet, but would need to be approved by the parliament , and signed by the president before it can be enacted.
Ireland is set to vote in May on a national referendum for marriage equality. Colin Farrell and other celebrities have urged voters to register and vote in favor of equality. The referendum will be the first national vote for marriage equality in the world.
Pending legislation in Chile could dramatically improve the rights of LGBT Chileans. Two bills, one focusing on civil unions and the other on transgender rights, advanced through initial votes in the Chilean Senate in 2014. In addition to this, LGBT activists introduced a marriage equality bill in December. Each of these pieces of legislation could pass in 2015.
A marriage equality amendment to the Taiwanese Civil Code is under legislative review inTaiwan. The proposed amendment would change the legal definition of marriage to be inclusive of same-sex couples and also allow same-sex adoption. If this legislation passes, Taiwan could become the first country in East Asia with marriage equality.