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Brexit, Trump and the countries that legalised homosexuality in 2016

Jonathan Cooper December 23, 2016
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Human rights lawyer and barrister Jonathan Cooper runs through the ups and downs of 2016.

The massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando will inevitably sear 2016 into the consciousness of LGBT people everywhere.

On 12 June 49 people were killed and 53 were injured. The killer killed himself.

The events that took place in those early hours confirmed what we all already knew: we’re never safe, even in spaces that we have created for our own.

The fear of those trapped in that club as they were hunted down pervades us all.

As we all go about our daily lives, wherever we are, we know another murderous attack is inevitable.

The fact that our world remains unsafe was confirmed by the police raid on Uganda Pride in August, detaining hundreds and arresting and incarcerating over a dozen, including leading LGBT activists Frank Mugisha and Pepe Onziema.

Across the globe murder, violence, extortion, arrests and detention continue on a regular basis, but during 2016 this persecution was exacerbated in Nigeria, Cameroon and across North Africa.

Chad is poised to introduce anti-gay laws for the first time. Kenyan courts found the indignity of forced anal examinations not to be unlawful; and Australia cannot bring itself to embrace equality by introducing equal marriage.

At the same time, the Northern Irish government stands firm in its refusal to allow gay men and lesbians to marry.

The outcome of the EU referendum in the United Kingdom raises the prospect of a dilution of equality laws protecting LGBT people.

Already, ‘think tanks’ are blue sky thinking ideas to ‘protect’ people of faith who choose not to provide services to LGBT people.

It was EU law that determined the bakers in the ‘gay cake’ row could not refuse to ice a cake with a pro equal marriage message.

Will the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights survive Brexit in the UK? That Charter is the only human rights document to protect expressly LGBT people.

Without its articulation of our rights, we will be less certain of our security.

In the run up to the referendum the UK Cabinet was categorically protective of the equal rights of LGBT people.

The Prime Minister, the Chancellor, the Home Secretary and, to an extent, the Foreign Secretary would not countenance anything less than full equality for LGBT people.

Is the current Prime Minister now our sole champion in her new Cabinet?

Without question, Brexit has thrown the European project into disarray.

Whereas once LGBT equality was seen as essential for the successful functioning of the single market, inevitably our issues now will be de-prioritised.

As Germany and Italy grapple with the consequences of the UK leaving the Union, the prospects for equal marriage in those jurisdictions diminishes, and the unsatisfactory state of LGBT equality in Eastern Europe remains the status quo.

The loss of Britain’s voice in the EU will genuinely be felt by our LGBT brothers and sisters in, for example, Poland, Hungary and Lithuania.

Furthermore, a weakened EU following Brexit will do nothing to stem the flow of poison and anti-LGBT rhetoric from Putin’s Russia.

The magnitude of what the global LGBT community has lost by Hilary Clinton not winning the US presidential election cannot be overestimated.

Had she won, with her commitment to LGBT equality, the ending of the criminalisation of LGBT people in many countries would have been a realistic prospect.

In her place we have a president who might see the business case for ending homophobia, but it will not drive his policy making.

He has settled for a Vice President whose antipathy towards LGBT people, along with his track record, has already won him the dubious title of Homophobe of the Year.

Why will Trump’s Secretary of State prioritise ending LGBT persecution?

He is interested in doing deals with Russia.

And for the Russians the new administration will simply enable them to consolidate their homophobic and anti-gay policies.

The brilliant work of the US State Department under President Obama in relation to LGBT rights across the globe might, at best, be shelved and, at worst, reversed.

On a positive note, 2016 also saw the number of those jurisdictions that criminalised reduced.

Both Nauru and the Seychelles got rid of their anti-gay laws.

Cameron’s and Obama’s administrations had played their roles in ensuring this outcome.

And in Belize the courts declared that criminalising LGBT people was unconstitutional, although regrettably this is not the last word on the matter.

The Government there had intended to accept the judgment but because of a legal technicality feel compelled to appeal the decision.

Yet the indomitable Caleb Orozco, the applicant in the case, fights on, cementing his place as an LGBT hero.

The appointment of Patricia Scotland as the Secretary General of the Commonwealth gives reason to hope. Throughout her career, ending LGBT persecution has been a concern.

And as the bulk of persecution comes from member states of the Commonwealth, the new Secretary General is aware that she will be measured against her success in addressing state sanctioned torment of LGBT people.

The Commonwealth will be supported by the new UN Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.

Despite multiple attempts by sectors of the International Community to scupper the creation of this expert, the position survives and no doubt will thrive.

2016 will be the last full year of Ban ki Moon’s tenure as Secretary General of the UN.

He has put LGBT equality on the map. We have so much to be grateful to him for.

And the Anglican Communion made clear that the persecution of LGBT people globally is a cause of real concern.

Mixed messages were received in 2016 from the Vatican.

The UK Parliament continued its sterling work on LGBT rights: the All Party Parliamentary Group chaired by Nick Herbert reported on global LGBT rights; the Foreign Affairs Select Committee put its weight behind ending LGBT persecution; and the Women and Equalities Committee published a ground-breaking report on transgender equality.

But the extent of LGBT youth homelessness in the UK was reported upon by the Albert Kennedy Trust, and UKLGIG and Stonewall highlighted the shocking circumstances of LGBT asylum claimants.

Which of the UK’s LGBT organisations made the biggest impact in 2016?

The National Aids Trust’s brilliant campaign to have PrEP made freely available was a masterclass in how a small NGO can change the lives of so many.

Post the EU referendum the UK has experienced an increase in hate crimes and the LGBT community has not been spared.

Some shocking anti-gay crimes were reported in 2016.

London and the UK’s major cities continue to be comfortable places for LGBT people, but how far this is the case in the provinces and rural Britain remains unclear.

The diversity within our LGBT community was also celebrated by some fascinating writing by LGBT people with disabilities. Josh Hepple’s articles including in PinkNews and in The Guardian were particularly insightful, but at the same time doubts were raised about how inclusive the LGBT world is of black and ethnic minority LGBT people.

Our world at the beginning of 2016 was moved by the poignant Danish Girl, and, despite getting a battering in the US, the profile of trans people in the UK has been raised.

For me, my highlight of the year was attending Bisi Alimi’s and Anthony Davis’s wedding in November.

It was a blast! On one level a wonderful wedding full of love and emotion, yet it was to feature as front page news in Nigeria with accompanying comments committed to killing Bisi.

Bisi was forced to claim asylum in the UK 12 years ago because of the persecution he experienced as a gay man in Nigeria.

Their beautiful loving wedding summed up 2016 for me: simple happiness that we now take for granted, but the risks are as present as the happiness. And dangers, to return to Pulse, lurk just beneath the surface.

Jonathan Cooper is a barrister specialising in human rights at Doughty Street chambers.

Related topics: 2016, LGBT, news, review, year in review

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