Romania is a society that is dominated by conservative social norms and as a consequence the LGBT community in the country is under tremendous strain. In some ways Romania is more liberal than other states in Eastern Europe- LGBT-based discrimination is illegal, LGBT individuals can adopt children, trans people can recognised by their preferred gender, and gays and lesbians can serve in the military. Unlike in other Eastern European states, the constitution does not prohibit same-sex marriage and this will remain the case after a referendum seeking to clarify ‘marriage’ as between ‘one man and one woman’ failed to pass.
The global fight from LGBT rights has largely moved away from the Western hemisphere and is now developing countries are increasingly the battleground of equality. One such area is the African continent, where only one nation-state, South Africa, has legalised same-sex marriage. Additionally, in parts of Africa homosexual acts can be punished by execution or mob violence can spontaneously erupt against LGBT individuals. When African countries make headlines in this area we often see reports of religious fundamentalists talking about how it is unnatural to be LGBT or inciting violence against sexual minorities. However in the last week we have something encouraging from Botswana.
There is still a long way to go when it comes to the march for LGBT equality. There are a number of battles that need to be fought around the world from the embryonic struggle to end the criminalisation of homosexual activity to more complex areas like systemic homophobia in public institutions. In the case of the latter the ultimate symbol of progress is the choice of an LGBT person to become the leader of a country. However it is important to stress that this symbolism has a different significance in different political cultures.
In Western media there has been justifiable outrage over the reports of concentration camps being established in Chechnya. Naturally such a move should be condemned and pressure need to be put on the Russian government to either stop the persecution or permit the safe passage of those under threat out of Chechnya. However, this doesn’t require any substantive political analysis as even those who do not especially care about LGBT rights would oppose the establishment of concentration camps. The subject of this piece is concerning the discourse around this news story, particularly the view that seeks to link this new development with Chechnya’s status as a Muslim-majority area.
In some European countries the idea of legal same-sex marriage is largely uncontroversial. For instance the Netherlands has had equal marriage since 2001, it being the first nation in the world to act. However the more eastward one travels, the more socially conservative countries appear to be on LGBT rights. I contend that 2017 will be an important year because it could be a watershed moment in the history of the European gay liberation movement. Evidently I may have been proven correct already as there has been progress in some parts of Europe in this very area. But even more can be made this year given the changes in public opinion in some European countries.
A heterosexual couple in Britain has been refused the right to enter into a civil partnership after losing a legal battle at the Court of Appeal. Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan had argued that the first ruling against them had been discriminatory because they were prohibited from this legal status because of their sexual orientation. The pair have said that they intend to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. The court case is important because it addresses the issue of inequality in our society but from a perspective that is often ignored, and the questions raised by refusing civil partnerships to heterosexual couples are interesting.
Malaysia has decided to adopt incredibly antiquated and oppressive views to sexual minorities by endorsing gay conversion therapy. Federal authorities claimed in a video that a person’s sexual orientation can be ‘cured’. Ironically, the video in question was an attempt by the Malaysian government to prevent people in the country’s Muslim communities to be hostile towards LGBT people. Indeed, the video says at one point: “the fact is, there are those among Muslims that have non-heterosexual orientation but remain steadfast on the path of Islam”. The video may have been intended to reduce discrimination towards the LGBT community, but the language used reveals just how far equality campaigners have yet to go.