As this year’s Pride month has now officially come to a close, we reflect on both the progress for, and the continued persecution of, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and other gender non-conforming (LGBTQ+) people around the world. While queer people have taken great strides in the past two decades to secure the rights to marriage equality and legal protections against discrimination, the majority of the world does not yet offer those same rights.
What is Pride Month?
Pride month is an important annual event that celebrates the struggle for equal civil rights for LGBTQ+ communities globally. Traditionally celebrated in June, Pride month marks the anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising which took place at the Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village in 1969, against police violence and harassment. Police raids on Gay bars were common at the time, as bars that served LGBTQ+ people were unable to obtain liquor licenses and were forced to operate illegally. The uprising that took place over the next 5 days after a police raid on the Stonewall Inn fundamentally shaped the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States and beyond. The aftermath of Stonewall saw a surge of organizing from civil society groups to advocate for the United States government to institute rights and legal protections for the LGBTQ+ community. At the forefront of the fight for queer liberation were Black and Latin Trans Women and Lesbians, notably Marsha P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera, who are both celebrated for being key participants in the Stonewall rebellion.
Pride events are often celebratory, commemorating the struggle for queer liberation in many countries throughout history and the rights that they have attained today. By contrast, in countries where queer people do not enjoy the same protections and rights, activists hold marches during Pride to protest their government’s persecution of the LGBTQ+ community. Human Rights Watch reports that “at least 69 countries have national laws criminalizing same-sex relations between consenting adults.” Further, there are only 31 countries with marriage equality wherein same-sex couples are legally allowed to marry. The fight to secure LGBTQ+ rights in these countries is often met with state and police violence and repression; however, it is necessary for civil society to stand up against these oppressive laws in order to fight for queer liberation.
Police Crackdown at Istanbul Pride March
On Sunday, June 26, 2022, organizers held their annual Pride march in Istanbul, Turkey. As people gathered, the Turkish police intervened and began arbitrarily arresting marchers and journalists covering the event. Over 360 people were detained and questioned by the police. This violent crackdown came after a seven-day ban issued by the Turkish authorities prior to Sunday’s Pride march on both outdoor and indoor gatherings in an attempt to deter Pride events from taking place. Police blocked several streets and train stations throughout the city with the aim of deterring people from attending the event, while Turkish officials claimed that this was done in an attempt to prevent violence and crime.
LGBTQ+ people in Turkey have been organizing Pride marches for years, fighting for queer liberation and legal protections within the country. However, this changed in 2015 when Turkish authorities enacted a last-minute ban and police unleashed tear gas on the marching crowd. Since then, Pride marches in Turkey have been banned, with authorities claiming that queer people are “‘perverts’ who aim to hurt traditional family values.” Despite these attacks, the LGBTQ+ community in Turkey is strong and committed to fighting against the cruel and repressive laws and bans enacted by the Turkish government. Same-sex marriages are currently illegal in Turkey, and there are no legal protections for queer people who face housing, employment, and social discrimination due to their sexuality or gender expression.
Japan Maintains Ban on Same-Sex Marriage
In 2021, a court in the Japanese city of Sapporo optimistically ruled that denying same-sex marriage was unconstitutional in Japan. Following this decision, three same-sex couples filed a claim with the Osaka court, arguing that it was unconstitutional for the courts to deny their marriages and also claiming one million yen per couple for violations against their freedom and equality. However, on June 20, 2022, the court dismissed their case and ruled that banning same-sex marriages is in fact constitutional, maintaining the freedom to marry only in male-female partnerships. This decision was a setback for members of the LGBTQ+ community, who have been fighting for the Japanese government to recognize same-sex partnerships for years.
Currently, same-sex couples in Japan do not have the right to marry, the right to inherit their partner’s assets, or parental rights over their partner’s children. Further, transgender people in Japan are faced with regressive and violent laws that violate their rights. For example, if a transgender person wishes to legally change their gender, they are forced to undergo surgical sterilization. This is a clear violation that directly targets transgender individuals’ bodily autonomy. In comparison with its G7 counterparts, Japan is evidently lagging behind on LGBTQ+ rights with much work needed to secure legal rights and protections for Japan’s queer community.
Overturning Roe v Wade threatens LGBTQ+ rights
Following the shocking reversal on June 24, 2022, of Roe v Wade – the 1973 Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion and protected individuals’ rights to privacy in the U.S. – LGBTQ+ advocates expressed fears that the reversal of LGBTQ+ rights and protections within the U.S. may come next. In his concurring opinion of the reversal of Roe, conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas argued that “[i]n future cases, we should reconsider all of this court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.”
The reversal of Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell would effectively strip queer people in the U.S. of their rights to marriage and privacy. These three decisions concluded that the right to privacy was enshrined within the Constitution, decriminalized sodomy and sexual conduct between two consenting adults of the same sex, and granted marriage equality to same-sex couples nationwide. By threatening the reversal of these decisions, Thomas reveals that overturning Roe is just the tip of the iceberg. The judicial conservative majority has the power to undo the progress that minority groups within the United States have fought so hard to achieve throughout the years.
Thailand Ratifies Same-Sex Union Bill
Noting the progress for LGBTQ+ people globally, Thai officials have passed four different draft bills pertaining to same-sex couples in a historic step towards LGBTQ+ equality in Asia. Once ratified by Parliament, same-sex couples in Thailand will be able to legally adopt children together and enjoy joint rights to their assets and inheritance. The bill would further remove gendered terms in previous marriage laws and would allow same-sex couples to legally marry.
Thailand has one of the largest open and visibly queer communities in Asia, a continent where LBTQ+ rights and protections have not been widely codified. Currently, Taiwan is the only country in Asia that has legalized same-sex marriage. If ratified by the Thai government, these bills would advance rights for queer people and foster a broader regional dialogue on LGBTQ+ acceptance within conservative Asian societies.
The Importance of Fighting for Queer Liberation
Pride month is an important annual event in many countries around the world. It is necessary to both commemorate the history of LGBTQ+ persecution and fight for equal rights, and also to protest and advance the rights of queer people globally. Even in countries that have legalized gay marriage, queer people still do not experience the same equal rights and opportunities that heterosexual people enjoy today. Many queer people continue to face housing, employment, healthcare, and social discrimination. Queer persecution is further evident with the recent threats on LGBTQ+ rights in the U.S., and the violent attack on Pride celebrations in Norway, where two people were shot and killed at a gay bar prior to Oslo Pride.
As we reflect on this year’s Pride Month we recognize that the fight for queer liberation globally has only just scratched the surface. The majority of countries do not have marriage equality and queer people are often criminalized simply for existing as their authentic selves. While the fight for queer liberation may look different from country to country, what is clear is that LGBTQ+ allies must stand in solidarity with queer people and activists in places where their rights are suppressed, and advocate for laws and policies that respect diverse sexual orientations and gender identities for queer people globally.
Edited by: Chelsea Bean