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10 top international LGBTQ+ news stories of 2021

The Biden administration’s pledge to champion LGBTQ rights abroad was the dominant international story in 2021

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Photo montage by The Los Angeles Blade

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration’s pledge to champion LGBTQ rights abroad was the dominant international story in 2021, but anti-LGBTQ crackdowns and efforts to expand rights also made headlines around the world over the past year. Here are the top 10 international stories of 2021.

#10: Botswana Court of Appeals decriminalizes same-sex sexual relations

Botswana Court of Appeals

The Botswana Court of Appeals on Nov. 29 upheld a ruling that decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country.

Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) challenged the colonial-era criminalization law.

Botswana’s High Court in 2019 unanimously ruled the law was unconstitutional. The Batswana government appealed the decision.

“Today is a momentous day in history, a victorious win in ascertaining liberty, privacy and dignity of the LGBTIQ persons in Botswana and definitely, this judgement sets precedence for the world at large,” said LEGABIBO CEO Thato Moruti after the Court of Appeals ruling.

#9: LGBTQ athletes compete in Summer Olympics 

Tom Daley via Team Great Britain Twitter

A record number of openly LGBTQ athletes competed in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Laurel Hubbard, a weightlifter from New Zealand, became the first out trans person to compete in any Olympics. Quinn, a non-binary trans person who is a member of the Canadian women’s soccer team, won an Olympic gold medal.

Tom Daley, a British Olympic diver who is married to Dustin Lance Black, also medaled during the games.

#8: LGBTQ activists, journalists arrested in Cuba

Maykel González Vivero (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

LGBTQ activists and journalists were among the hundreds of people who were arrested during anti-government protests in Cuba on July 11.

Maykel González Vivero, director of Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba, was violently arrested near Havana’s Revolution Square during one of the protests. 

Yoan de la Cruz, a gay man who live-streamed the first protest that took place in San Antonio de los Baños, remains in custody. He faces an 8-year prison sentence.

The protests took place against the backdrop of mounting food shortages, a worsening economic crisis, human rights abuses and criticism over the government’s response to the pandemic. Thousands of Cuban Americans on July 26 marched to the Cuban Embassy in D.C. in support of the protesters.

#7: Gay Games in Hong Kong remain in doubt

Hong Kong

The 2023 Gay Games that are scheduled to take place in Hong Kong remain in doubt amid growing concerns over China’s human rights record.

Gay Games Hong Kong in September postponed the event until 2023 because of the pandemic.

Hong Kong’s National Security Law, which human rights activists say makes it easier for authorities to punish anyone in the former British colony who challenges the Chinese government, took effect in 2020. Upwards of 2 million Hong Kongers took part in pro-democracy protests the year before.

The Women’s Tennis Association has suspended tournaments in Hong Kong and throughout China in response to the disappearance of Peng Shuai, a Chinese tennis star, after she publicly accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. Diplomats from the U.S. and other countries will also boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

“The Federation of Gay Games continues to monitor the situation in Hong Kong regarding COVID-19, the National Security Law and all other aspects that affect the safety and security of our event,” Sean Fitzgerald, co-president of the Federation of Gay Games, told the Blade in a statement after the Women’s Tennis Association announced it had suspended all of its tournaments in China. “We are committed to hosting Gay Games 11 in Hong Kong in November 2023.”

#6: Anti-LGBTQ crackdowns continue in Hungary, Poland

Sopot, Poland vice-mayor (right) Magdalena Czarzyńska-Jachim and LGBTQ marchers in Sopot, during Pride 2021.
(Photo credit: Magdalena Czarzyńska-Jachim)

The governments of Hungary and Poland in 2021 continued their anti-LGBTQ crackdowns.

The European Commission in July announced legal action against Hungary after a law that bans the promotion of homosexuality and sex-reassignment surgery to minors took effect. Hungarian lawmakers in November approved a resolution that paves the way for a referendum on LGBTQ issues.

The European Commission in September threatened to withhold funds from five Polish provinces that have enacted so-called LGBTQ “free zones.” Polish lawmakers have also sought to ban Pride marches and other pro-LGBTQ events.

#5: LGBTQ candidates elected throughout the world

Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Idan Roll, who’s gay, is the youngest person in his country’s new government. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

LGBTQ candidates won elections throughout the world in 2021.

Two transgender women — Tessa Ganserer and Nyke Slawik — won seats in the German Parliament in September. Emilia Schneider in November became the first openly trans person elected to the Chilean congress.

Victor Grajeda in November became the first openly gay man to win a seat in the Honduran congress.

Openly gay Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Idan Roll is the youngest person in his country’s new government that formed in June after long-time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ouster. Israeli Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz is also openly gay.

#4: Efforts to ban conversion therapy gain traction

Canadian House unanimously passes ban on conversion therapy (Screenshot via CBC)

More countries moved to ban so-called conversion therapy in 2021.

A Canadian law that prohibits the widely discredited practice in the country will take effect in January. 

French lawmakers on Dec. 15 approved a bill that would ban conversion therapy in their country. 

Measures to prohibit conversion therapy are also before legislators in Finland and New Zealand. The British Parliament in 2022 is expected to debate a bill that would ban conversion therapy in England and Wales.

Brazil and Malta are two of the countries that already ban conversion therapy.

#3: VP Harris acknowledges anti-LGBTQ violence as cause of migration

Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff & spouse U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris at Pride March June 2020 in Washington (Screenshot via WJLA)

Vice President Kamala Harris throughout 2021 acknowledged that anti-LGBTQ violence is one of the “root causes” of migration from Central America.

Harris in June raised the issue during a meeting with Visibles Executive Director Daniel Villatoro, Ingrid Gamboa of the Association of Garifuna Women Living with HIV/AIDS and other Guatemalan civil society members that took place in Guatemala City. State Department spokesperson Ned Price, who is openly gay, a few weeks earlier told the Blade that protecting LGBTQ migrants and asylum seekers is one of the Biden administration’s global LGBTQ rights priorities.

Immigrant rights activists who remain critical of the Biden administration’s immigration policy note Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the coronavirus pandemic, remains in place. The so-called Remain in Mexico policy that forces asylum seekers to pursue their cases in Mexico has also been reinstated under a court order.

“To be a trans person is synonymous with teasing, harassment, violence and even death,” Venus, a transgender woman from La Ceiba, Honduras, told the Blade in July during an interview in the city.

#2: LGBTQ Afghans desperate to flee after Taliban regains control

Two men in Kabul, Afghanistan, in July 2021 (Photo courtesy of Dr. Ahmad Qais Munzahim)

LGBTQ Afghans remain desperate to flee after the Taliban regained control of the country on Aug. 15.

Two groups of LGBTQ Afghans that Stonewall, Rainbow Railroad and Micro Rainbow evacuated with the help of the British government arrived in the U.K. in the fall. Some of the Afghan human rights activists who Taylor Hirschberg, a researcher at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health who is also a Hearst Foundation scholar, has been able to help leave the country since the Taliban regained control of it are LGBTQ. 

A Taliban judge in July said the group would once again execute gay people if it were to return to power in Afghanistan. Rainbow Railroad and Immigration Equality are among the groups that continue to urge the Biden administration to do more to help LGBTQ Afghans who remain inside the country.

#1: Biden commits U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad

President Joe Biden holds a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Thursday, December 30, 2021, at his private residence in Wilmington, Delaware. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

The Biden administration in February issued a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price, who is gay, in May told the Washington Blade the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the five global LGBTQ rights priorities for the Biden administration. 

The White House in June named then-OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern as the next special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad. The State Department in October announced it would issue passports with an “X” gender marker.

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News Analysis

The ‘Public Right to Know Act’ is first step in staunching trauma & death

Without fairness and transparency, people — including children — are harmed, traumatized and die as the result of a preventable tragedy

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California Senator Connie M. Leyva (Screenshot/California Legislative TV)

By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – Nothing can assuage the pain of losing a child. But for Amy Cooper, who lost her adult son to an OxyContin overdose, doing nothing to prevent her family tragedy from happening to others would be excruciating.

That’s why she stood in her pain and testified on behalf of California Senator Connie M. Leyva’s ‘Public Right to Know Act’ (SB 1149) and shared her story in the San Francisco Chronicle. SB 1149, which would prohibit factual information about defective products and dangerous hazards from being kept secret through overly broad court protective orders and settlement agreements, passed out of the state Senate on Monday and now heads to the Assembly.

“It’s a step forward towards fulfilling the duty we have of caring for one another and putting a stop to preventable deaths and the ripple of trauma that follows. I believe authentic care for humankind must be stronger than greed,” Amy Cooper told Public Justice, a co-sponsor of SB 1149, along with Consumer Reports.

“Secrecy kills,” said Rich Barber, whose son was killed by a Remington Arms gun that fired without the trigger being pulled. For years, Remington had been able to hide the trigger defect on their popular Remington Model 700 and a dozen other Remington models by having court records sealed that showed evidence the company had known about the defect for decades but kept selling the bolt-action rifle anyway, resulting in hundreds of people being maimed or killed.

In 2016, Public Justice successfully sued to make public over 118,000 previously-sealed Remington documents. Investigative exposés by 60 Minutes and CNBC based on those documents and others forced Remington into a two-month bankruptcy. Though short-lived, the bankruptcy caused a delay in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by families of nine victims and a teacher who were shot and survived the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting with a Remington.

The suit was initially dismissed by a state court based on federal immunity protections for firearms manufacturers under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005. But after the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the suit’s wrongful marketing claim could proceed under state law, Remington’s insurers reached an astounding $73,000,000 settlement on February 15, 2022.

Public Justice connected the dots from unsealing secret court documents to the historic settlement and accountability (Remington is now defunct) reached by the law firm of Public Justice Board Secretary Preston Tisdale, for whom the case was personal. “Today was a great day for Preston and his firm and all the hard work they did over that unspeakable tragedy. But to hold the gun manufacturers responsible and get a settlement is some very small recompense to those families but it sends a broader signal to those manufacturers and the things that they do,” said Board President Dan Bryson when the settlement was announced.

As co-sponsor of SB 1149, Public Justice also took the lead in calling out the Chamber of Commerce and Big Pharma when they opposed the Public Right to Know Act using “old, inaccurate myths and distortions,” adding some new disinformation. It didn’t work.

“In an open society, court records are presumptively open to public inspection. Even in a dispute between private parties, a court’s resolution of that dispute is a matter of public interest. This is especially true when a case involves a public danger, such as a defective product or environmental hazard. But courts repeatedly issue overbroad protective orders that keep discovery information secret and protect incriminating documents — and lawyers mutually agree to settlements and stipulated orders that prohibit disclosing the very facts that prompted the case. Though secrecy is sometimes necessary to protect personal information or legitimate trade secrets, it is grossly inappropriate when it clearly keeps information about ongoing dangers from the public, which — in a very real way — can threaten health, safety and even lives,” Senator Leyva said in presenting SB 1149 for a Senate floor vote on May 23.

“In the case of Purdue Pharma, the company told outright lies for many years regarding safe dosage levels and the likelihood of addiction from Oxycontin while hiding behind a decade long wall of courthouse secrecy, which ultimately killed hundreds of thousands of people,” Leyva said, before citing how “tens of thousands of women were harmed or died” by using Bayer’s Essure, a supposedly safe metallic nonsurgical form of birth control. She offered to cite scores of other examples.

SB 1149 passed with 26 ‘Yes’ votes to 10 ‘No’ votes.

“Information about defects and hazards created by companies should never be hidden behind a veil of courthouse secrecy that can endanger the lives and safety of Californians,” Leyva said. “The public must have access to this vital information so that they can decide — for themselves — how they can protect themselves and their families from these defective products or toxic hazards. It is unconscionable that any company would ever seek to keep critical information that can lead to injuries or even deaths from the public — and all because of their desire for keep making profits. I thank my Senate colleagues that voted for SB 1149 today, as they are standing on the side of the public by helping to prevent future injuries or deaths.”

“For decades, settlement agreements, stipulations for court orders, and standing protective orders have hidden information that the public has the right to know,” said Professor Richard Zitrin, who brought the bill to Leyva. “Companies keep this information secret not because of legitimate trade secrets but to avoid accountability for their dangerous and defective products that harm the public. Public access to court records is an inherent part of a transparent and fair court system that ensures justice for all.”

Without fairness and transparency, people — including children — are harmed, traumatized and die as the result of a preventable tragedy.

If SB 1149 is approved by the Legislature and signed into law, California would join several other states that have enacted similar anti-secrecy laws, including Florida, Louisiana, Montana, South Carolina, and Washington.

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Karen Ocamb is the Director of Media Relations for Public Justice.

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Research/Study

Poll: Parents split on teaching LGBTQ+ subject materials in classrooms

Half of all Americans said they are comfortable learning children are being taught lessons on LGBTQ history at school

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Florida high school students gather for rally to protest Florida's Don't Say Gay law (Photo courtesy of Will Larkins)

WASHINGTON – A new poll released on Monday by Morning Consult an online survey research technology firm showed that there is a fairly even split among American parents over the teaching or discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in K-12 classrooms.

The polling revealed that parents who politically identify from both Republican and Democratic parties are become more comfortable with increasing LGBTQ prominence in everyday life. These factors coming as Republican state lawmakers claim ‘parental rights’ as the justification for a litany of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in the past three years that they have pushed including multiple ‘Don’t Say Gay’ laws in state houses across the country, the Florida law becoming a lightening rod in political discourse.

Key Findings:

Where Americans stand on LGBTQ in the classroom

American parents or guardians of children 18 years old or younger are essentially split over the teaching or discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in K-12 classrooms: 41% support it and 44% are opposed. Parents are slightly more likely to support (44%) than oppose (40%) instruction about the LGBTQ civil rights movement.

U.S. parents were asked if they support or oppose the following being taught or discussed in K-12 schools:

According to Morning Consult, there are only small differences between parents of younger pupils and of high schoolers, but stark partisan divides are evident: Roughly 3 in 5 Democratic parents nationwide support discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity, while nearly as many Republican parents and almost half of independent parents oppose it.

Annise Parker, president and CEO of the pro-LGBTQ Victory Fund, told Morning Consult that schools have often marked the frontlines of the culture wars, and this time, proponents of legislation like Florida’s have been especially able to wedge Americans’ still-mixed views about rights for transgender people. 

“One of the reasons we’ve made such great progress over the years in terms of how the public perceives people who are gay and lesbian is because of proximity — knowledge of people coming out individually. The transgender issue is still unknown for a lot of folks,” she said. “For an issue that it took some education for my own community to come to grips with, we shouldn’t be surprised it’s much harder for the broader society.” 

The poll also examined the influences that teachers have over students in discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity noting while most Americans — including 82% of Republican parents — trust teachers to “act in good faith, do their jobs fairly and prepare their students for the world,” the GOP’s focus on LGBTQ topics in the classroom could capitalize on declining trust in the public education system, especially among Republicans, who are more likely than the broader population to believe classroom instructors have influence on children’s values and their sexuality and gender identity.

Republicans are aligned with much of their base in the view that LGBTQ discussion is inappropriate for the educational system. But some have gone even further and accused those who believe teachers should be able to discuss such matters in the classroom of being “groomers,” a term used to refer to people who lure children for sexual abuse.

The poll asked about faculty who identify as LGBTQ+:

Vast majorities of parents who are Democrats or independents said they are comfortable with LGBTQ people interacting with their kids, while nearly 3 in 5 Republican parents agreed. Roughly 3 in 10 Republican parents said they do not personally know or associate with an LGBTQ person. Those parents were more likely to say they are uncomfortable having an LGBTQ person interact with their children than the roughly two-thirds who do, 44% to 25%.

Americans’ increasing comfort with the LGBTQ community

Most Americans, including Republicans generally and the parents among them, have become more comfortable with the LGBTQ community over the past three years, according to Morning Consult surveys. 

When it comes to educational instruction, about a third of Republican parents (32%) said they are comfortable with LGBTQ history lessons in their child’s classroom, more than twice the share who said so in May 2019, while the share who said they were uncomfortable with it fell, from 77% to 55%. 

On the question of teaching LGBTQ+ history to students the split was nearly even:

As for the broader population, half of all Americans said they are comfortable learning children are being taught lessons on LGBTQ history at school, compared to roughly 2 in 5 who said it makes them uncomfortable. Both figures were similar to the shares measured in 2019, but comfort has increased with regard to other aspects of queer life, including seeing a child being raised by a same-sex couple, being invited to a same-sex wedding or being represented by a person who is LGBTQ in Congress.

The final question dealt with how Americans are increasingly comfortable with LGBTQ association:

The entire Morning Consult Poll is here: (Link)

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News Analysis

Daily Wire’s Walsh using a trans man’s shirtless photo without permission

The subject of the photo has asked Walsh to remove the picture, which the Daily Wire host tweeted on May 14

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Molly Butler / Media Matters

By Mia Gingerich | WASHINGTON – Daily Wire host Matt Walsh, who called the white supremacist great replacement conspiracy theory “just a fact,” is using an unauthorized photo of a trans man in a trailer promoting his upcoming documentary.

The subject of the photo has asked Walsh to remove the picture, which the Daily Wire host tweeted on May 14. While the unauthorized use could violate Twitter’s policy on copyrighted material, the platform refuses to act, maintaining its recent streak of permitting anti-trans content in violation of its own stated policies.

Five days after Walsh tweeted a trailer for his forthcoming documentary “What Is A Woman,” Steph Kyriacou quote-tweeted Walsh, saying a photo of his has been used in the documentary without permission and asking for it to be removed. It appears that his photo had been taken from his Instagram profile. This photo is one of several in the trailer depicting transmasculine people following their top surgery. Troublingly, another Twitter user said the trailer for Walsh’s documentary also included an unauthorized image of their then-15-year-old son.

This is not the first time that Walsh has come under fire for making and promoting this film without permission from those appearing in it. Earlier this year it was revealed that as part of filming the documentary, he had created a puppet organization to trick trans people into appearing in the film. 

After Kyriacou and other users reported Walsh’s tweet for copyright violations, Twitter responded by saying it would not take down the tweet, even though Walsh appears to be in violation of Twitter’s policies because he’s profiting from the use of the images. The film is being released through Daily Wire’s website and is exclusive to those who pay for a membership. 

Despite Twitter users pointing out the potential violation, the post remains up.  

Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic, cited Twitter’s failure to remove Walsh’s trailer as an example in a trend of Twitter failing to enforce its policies on harassment of trans people. 

Across social media, platforms are failing to address anti-trans content, and Twitter is no exception. The platform has recently failed to enforce its own content policy on hate speech in regards to misgendering and other forms of harassment. 

This documentary is the latest piece in Walsh’s strange obsession with trans people and their identities — earlier this year, he released a children’s book comparing gender identity to identifying as a walrus. It is also part of a larger right-wing tactic to manufacture outrage by posing a disingenuous question that seeks a simple answer for a complex question, the absurdity of which became even more transparent when Republicans were posed the same question.

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Mia Gingerich is a researcher at Media Matters. She has a bachelor’s degree in politics and government from Northern Arizona University and has previously worked in rural organizing and local media.

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The preceding article was previously published by Media Matters for America and is republished by permission.

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