OutRight Action International was founded in 1990 on the brink of a period of immense change for LGBTIQ people – the same year that the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its list of diseases, and a year after Denmark became the first country in the world to recognize same-sex unions. The subsequent decade saw laws criminalizing same-sex relations fall in many parts of the world, and anti-discrimination legislation appear in countries ranging from the U.S., to South Africa and Ireland.
Almost 30 years later, it is immensely satisfying to look back at the hard work and sacrifices of our community and allies that have led to incredible progress here in California, and much of the U.S. At the federal level, so-called sodomy laws have been toppled and marriage equality is the law of the land. California has led many other states in protections for LGBTIQ people, including banning “conversion therapy,” legally recognizing non-binary gender identities, and including accomplishments and history of LGBTIQ people in our state’s public education, to name a few.
However, the last few years have been a sobering reminder that we can never take progress for granted. Not here at home, and certainly not around the world. Same-sex relations are still criminalized in around 70 countries. Hundreds of LGBTIQ people continue to be illegally detained and tortured with total impunity in Chechnya. After decades of incredible Pride marches in Istanbul, Turkey, they have been banned and violently attacked. Organizers of an LGBTIQ conference in Lebanon were threatened. Concertgoers in Egypt were arrested and prosecuted simply for lifting a rainbow flag at a concert. Over the last few days, news headlines have reported the impending implementation of Sharia law in Brunei, which includes death by stoning for same-sex relations.
Even in countries known for their championing of the human rights of LGBTIQ people, we have faced challenges. We have seen restrictions to Pride marches in Paris and Brussels, openly transphobic comments and policies proposed by the President of the United States, an 80% surge in hate crime against LGBTIQ people in the UK. I could go on.
In this context, we have an uphill battle to keep fighting for progress in the recognition of our right to be who we are and live our lives without discrimination, harassment and violence. We also have a responsibility to prevent backsliding of the progress achieved so far here, and to stand in solidarity with our communities around the world who face more extreme conditions.
This is precisely why organizations like OutRight are crucial. OutRight is one of the oldest global organizations fighting for LGBTIQ people everywhere, as well as the only LGBTIQ organization with a permanent status and presence at the United Nations headquarters in New York. OutRight is a trusted partner and ally for grassroots LGBTIQ activists around the world and conducts important and groundbreaking research.
Despite the increasing backlash against LGBTIQ people globally, we have celebrated a number of incredible successes over the last year. In September of 2018 the High Court in India repealed a colonial-era ban on same-sex relations, quoting text written and advocated by OutRight at the UN. With OutRight’s help, several civil society organizations have achieved legal registration in the Caribbean, a region in which a majority of countries still criminalize same-sex relations. In Sri Lanka and the Philippines hundreds of medical professionals, police officers, counselors and community leaders have been trained on support for LBT survivors of domestic violence. Hundreds of activists from around the world, many of them from countries where their very existence is criminalized, and where their homes and offices are regularly monitored or raided, have been brought by OutRight to New York to speak directly with governments and international policy makers at the UN.
The current context makes our work more challenging, and more important. It also makes our alliances more crucial, more urgent, and more relevant. For the human rights of LGBTIQ people are not only a concern for LGBTIQ people, they concern every single one of us.
The time to stand up for human rights, for democracy, for dignity, and for freedom is now. Please join OutRight in the fight for all of our right to be who we are, to love who we choose, and to live lives free from hate – here in California, and everywhere in the world.
OutRight will host events in Pacific Palisades on April 13 from 11 am-1 pm and in Palm Springs on April 14 from 5-7 pm, featuring their Deputy Executive Director Maria Sjödin and Rikki Nathanson, a trans activist from Zimbabwe. For more information or to RSVP, visit outrightinternational.org/palisades or outrightinternational.org/desert or contact email@example.com.