It’s the last week of Pride month. One of my favorite times of the year – a month during which LGBTIQ movements around the world celebrate progress and resilience; when attention is drawn to countering violence; when the spotlight shines on stories of LGBTIQ people to raise awareness, increase understanding, and promoting progress. Whether pride takes the shape of celebration or protest or – as it will for me – both, it is undoubtedly the time of year when our movement is seen the most, and our hearts beat the loudest.
And this year it is even more so, as we mark fifty years after the spontaneous riots in protest against police raids and shaming of LGBTIQ people at the Stonewall Inn gave rise to the contemporary LGBTIQ and Pride movements. New York is hosting World Pride to mark the occasion, recognizing the global importance of the Stonewall riots, and celebrating the incredible progress we’ve seen around the globe over the last fifty years, while also drawing attention to the horrific conditions LGBTIQ people continue to face in far too many places.
Thinking back to what our movement has achieved in 50 years is humbling. Laws criminalizing same-sex relations have fallen across the world. Just this month in Botswana and Bhutan. anti-discrimination legislation, specifically including grounds for sexual orientation and gender identity, have been adopted in numerous locations spanning the globe, most recently in North Macedonia. Recognition that love has no gender is growing, with Taiwan recently becoming the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. Pride events have grown in size, visibility and prestige; LGBTIQ characters in popular culture are growing year on year.
Without a doubt, we have a lot to celebrate!
However, the last year has also been a sobering reminder that we can never take progress for granted. After decades of incredible pride marches in Istanbul and elsewhere in Turkey, they have been banned and violently attacked in recent years. Pride organizers were arrested last year in Lebanon and persecutions of perceived LGBTIQ people, predominantly gay and bisexual men, continued with impunity in Chechnya. Brunei passed a final phase of Sharia law envisaging death by stoning so-called sexual offenses, including same-sex relations and adultery. Further, the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education used Pride month to issue an extensive guidance document for Catholic schools and universities to promote bullying and the exclusion of LGBTIQ youth.
Moreover, sixty-eight countries and several territories still criminalize same-sex relations. In fifty-five countries LGBTIQ organizations cannot legally register, and in thirty countries there are no LGBTIQ organizations at all. LGBTIQ people are also subjected to harmful and ineffective “conversion therapies”, recognized as being tantamount to torture by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Fifty years ago, trans women were on the forefront of the Stonewall riots. Their rights have not only lagged behind in the years since, but are facing a particularly tenacious and hateful backlash now.
Even in countries where LGBTIQ progress has been made, they have faced challenges. We have seen openly transphobic comments and policies proposed by the President of the United States, and an 80% surge in hate crimes against LGBTIQ people in the UK. The so-called anti-gender movement has grown in strength and numbers, spanning across hateful civil society and religious groups aiming to challenge the existence of and exclude LGBTIQ people from human rights protections, halt gender equality efforts, restrict sexual and reproductive health and rights, and preserve a social order based on outdated, harmful gender roles.
In this context, I will be joining the World Pride March on June 30 in New York City, in celebration of all of the achievements to date. And I will smile, and dance, and enjoy the incredible energy the event will bring to the city.
But I will also march in the same spirit of protest that the first marches embodied; for we have quite the battle ahead 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, while also preventing backsliding of the progress achieved so far.
About the author:
Jessica Stern is Executive Director of OutRight Action International, and specializes in gender, sexuality and human rights globally. At OutRight, she has supported the legal registration of LGBTIQ organizations globally, helped secure the mandate of the United Nations Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, and advanced the UN LGBTI Core Group.