October 11, 2017
While The Channel is Australia focused, many people are curious as to what is happening at the moment in the global LGBTI space. While we are preoccupied here with winning marriage equality, the global landscape around LGBTI rights and policy change is very different. Internationally there is currently a focus on, and opportunities around, thematic and policy change. And a small number of international LGBTI philanthropists are directing their work towards these five key international focus areas – decriminalisation, legal gender recognition, non-discrimination, intersex protections and marriage/civil union rights.
Let’s start with decriminalisation- in at least 76 countries have discriminatory laws that criminalise private, consensual same-sex relationships, exposing millions to arrest, prosecution and imprisonment. In five countries the penalty is death. Not only does this violate countless international human rights and freedoms, but these laws are also often legacies of colonial powers, in fact many of the laws used to punish men in Africa and the Caribbean were written in Victorian London! Closer to home, our nearest neighbour, Papua New Guinea, still criminalises consensual same-sex relationships. And Singapore, a huge destination for many Australians and a known stop over on the kangaroo hop to Europe, still criminalises homosexuality.
Legal gender recognition - while simple in intent, legal gender recognition laws make it possible for transgender individuals to change their gender on official documents without undue medical or other processes, such as forced sterilisation, years of therapy etc. This remains a big issue in the majority of international countries, and while Australia, Malta and Argentina lead the way, there is still a long way to go. We are seeing snippets of progress though, 500 transgender people in Argentina were surveyed a year after the monumental changes were ushered in locally. Violence was down across the board, as were problems with police. The study found that the dignity and stature afforded by the country’s legal recognition prompted this decrease in incidents. The lesson for all of us here is that promoting gender identity legislation and acceptance reduces and prevents violence against the LGBTI community generally – a goal worth fighting for. Stay tuned to the action in South and Central America, and the former Yugoslav republics within this space.
Non-discrimination protections - at any given time, countries have multiple opportunities to protect LGBTI citizens with laws, however the global trend is to have pockets of local or regional support, but very sparse national protections. Over the past few years focus areas for this issue have included Japan, Philippines and Sri Lanka. And while America proudly jibes Australia for its slow progress on marriage equality, Australia does have one of the most comprehensive and protective non-discrimination protections of any country at a national level. This is a legacy of the reforms introduced by the Rudd/Gillard governments, and one which goes further to include intersex as a protected attribute under the sex discrimination act, which was a world first at the time and is now being replicated internationally, albeit slowly.
Intersex protections- the hardest discussions I have had with close family and friends have been in relation to their question “what is intersex?”. For those still unsure, it is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of natural bodily variations that people with sex characteristics that do not fit the typical binary notions of male and female bodies have. The frequency of this is up to 1.7% of the global population, in layman’s terms it is similar to the number of people who have red hair. Because their bodies are seen as different, intersex children and adults are often stigmatised and subjected to multiple human rights violations- including violations to their health and physical integrity, as well as (in some countries) instances of torture and ill-treatment. Forced treatments and medically unnecessary surgeries are just some of the horrific injustices currently being fought against globally.
Marriage and civil union rights- while topical in Australia, with almost a feeling here that the march towards equality is unstoppable, globally it is much patchier. However on our marriage equality journey, as we argue in real time over the differences between de-facto and marriage rights; Colombia, Isle of Man and other countries in Asia are leapfrogging Australia on marriage equality. And the next big country to watch in my opinion is Japan, where six cities and city wards have already legalised same sex partnerships. The next few years may see this most conservative Asian country lead the way on equality again.
So, what can you do to stay up to speed regarding the big international LGBTI issues? Firstly, stay tuned to these blogs, and also consider a visit to www.unfe.org . UN Free and Equal is the UN global campaign against homophobia and transphobia, and is a useful set of resources, campaigns and advocacy activities. In addition, www.AllOut.org is the global getup/change platform and campaign group, and is well worth signing up to.
About Neil Pharaoh,
Neil Pharaoh is one of the Founding Directors of The Channel, Australia first LGBTI giving circle. He was also the national co-chair of Rainbow Labor from 2008-2014, which was the body instrumental in over 200 LGBTI legislative and regulatory reforms within Australia. Neil ran for State Parliament in Australia in 2014, and after a narrow election loss spent 2015 working in the US, in areas including international LGBTI advocacy, campaigns and political activities. He tweets at @neilpharaoh (www.twitter.com/neilpharaoh ) and can be followed on Facebook (www.facebook.com/neilpharaoh) and Instagram (www.instagram.com/neilpharaoh ).