With Rise Of Right-wing, LGBT Rights May Cease To Exist In Many Parts Of The World

Across the world, countries have begun to recognise and legally protect universal laws for the LGBT community. But there is a lurking fear that many of the hard-fought rights could get rescinded.

With Rise Of Right-wing, LGBT Rights May Cease To Exist In Many Parts Of The World

Today they can aspire to the highest polit­ical office. There is an openly gay prime minister in Europe, and a lesbian one. Xav­ier Bettel, Luxembourg’s PM, is in his second term in office. Serbia’s Ana Brnabić is the first les­bian and first woman PM, and has been in office since 2017. President Joe Biden appointed the first gay Cabinet minister in Pete Buttigieg, the US transportation secretary. The US State Departm­ent spokesperson Ned Price is also gay. Then, of course, there is Apple CEO Tim Cook. There is celebrity talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres and CNN anchor Anderson Cooper (son of heiress Gloria Vanderbilt), who also has a two-year-old son. Same-sex marriages, property rights and all other civil rights that were once denied are no longer out of reach. Children of gay couples can inherit property and become their legal heirs.  

Western Europe is the most progressive in granting protection and rights to the LGBT community. While 32 countries across the world recognise same-­sex marriage as well as rights of adoption for lesbian and gay couples, 19 of these are in Europe. Another 11 European nations have legalised civil unions between same-sex couples. Like France, the UK also legitimised same-sex marriage in 2013. Adop­tion is also legal for such couples.  

Here is the other reality. Eric Lembembe lived in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, a central Afri­can nation. He was a leading journalist and gay activist, and was affectionately nicknamed Princess Erica by his friends for his fashionable clothes and sense of style. On a Saturday, when Lembembe did not turn up for an office meeting, his colleagues were surprised. He was an ace reporter and was passionate about his work. He hardly ever missed work meets. Friends began calling, only to find that he did not pick up his mobile.

Anti-gay protesters in New York Photo: Getty Images

Skipping work without informing the office was not the kind of thing expected from Lembembe. On Monday, when the­re was still no sign of Lembembe, a number of his friends went over to his apartment. The front door was locked, but through a window they saw his lifeless body. It was July 15, 2013. They broke open the front door and got to him. But it was too late. He had been tortured and killed. His neck and legs were broken and there were signs that a hot iron was run over his body by his torturers, who wanted to send a strong message to the gay community. He was murdered because he was openly gay and pro­ud of it. “Probably no one was even questioned. Absolutely no progress has been made,” Drissa Traore, deputy head of the Federation for Human Rights in Cameroon said at the time. Many people felt he deserved to die because he was a gay.

In Native Ameri­c­an, North African and Pacific Island cultures, gays, lesbians and transgend­ers were accepted in society as “Two-Spirit” people.

But this hate and persecution of gays is not confi­ned to Cameroon. It is spread across African countries, including Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana. On April 17, 2022, Sheila Adhiambo Lumumba, a 25-year-­old lesbian was found murdered in Karatina in Ke­n­­ya. She had been missing for several days bef­ore her body was found. The autopsy showed that Lu­m­­umba had been raped, strangled and stabbed on the neck, and her legs were broken. In Africa, much of this hate is alleged to have been propaga­ted by the church. Same-sex love is also seen as an abomination in Islam.  

In ancient cultures, gays, lesbians and transgend­ers were accepted as part of the society. Native Ame­ri­c­ans, North Africans and Pacific Islanders accepted “Two-Spirit” people as a part of the society. Two-Spirit is a term for homosexuals and transgenders. They were highly respected memb­ers, conducted rituals and acted as high priests of the animistic religions of Pacific islanders. It is only when organised religi­ons arrived in Africa on the coat-tails of Christian missionaries that same-sex love started being rega­rded as going against natural laws and associated with the devil.

San Francisco celebrates US Supreme Court ruling in favour of same-sex marriage Photo: Getty Images

When the Europeans arrived on the scene with the aim of civilising the natives, they were scan­d­ali­sed by the easy acceptance of “unnatural gender attractions”. Any deviation from the und­ersta­n­d­ing of “masculine” and “feminine” roles was regarded as criminal conduct, liable to be punis­hed. The first known case of punishing a man for sodomy in America was in 1566, when Spanish conquerors executed a Frenchman in Florida for what the Catholic Church regarded as deviation from the norm.  

The same pattern was followed in Asia. Before the Spanish occupation of the Philippines, homosexuals were respected as healers and mediators in the society, on a par with the nobility. Many were spi­r­itual leaders. How­e­ver, all this underwent a drastic change when, und­er the influence of the new rulers, the country converted to Christianity, mos­tly Catholic. Once the Phil­i­ppines came under the influence of the church, homosexuals were frowned upon and are persecuted to this day.  

This kind of intolerance continues in several countries across the world. Since the Islamic Revolution in Iran, homosexuals have been und­er attack. Sexual activity among gays and lesbians is strictly forbidden and liable to be punished by imprisonment and, in rare cases, even execut­ion. Soon after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, some 20 homosexuals were executed. Tra­nsgen­ders in Iran are encouraged to go for sex-change surgeries partially financed by the government. After Thailand, the largest number of sex-change operations in the world are carried out in Iran, as the government encourages transgenders to opt for one gender or the other.

The US often sets the agenda for the rest of the world. If same-sex laws are scrapped by the US SC, governments across the world will start stalling legalisation of LGBT rights.

Like in Iran, same-sex relationships are illegal in several Muslim countries, incl­u­ding Kuwait, Egypt, Oman and Syria. Peo­­­ple are thrown into prison for indulging in same-sex relationships. It carries a death sent­e­nce in Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In Afgh­a­nistan, too, the LGBT community has a tough time and lacks legal protection. Since the Tali­ban takeover, they are being hounded and pers­ecuted. Even before the Taliban, gay men could be thrown into prison for two years for conduc­ting “illicit” relations. Similarly, Pakistan does not have laws protecting the LGBT community.  

In Western Europe, Malta, Belgium and Luxe­m­bourg have the best legal and political rights for LGBTs. While Western Europe has embra­ced the LGBT community, East European countries are extremely intolerant. Armenia, Bel­a­rus, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine recognise marriage only between man and woman. Only Croatia and Hungary recognise same-sex partnerships.

In 34 African countries, homosexuality is outlawed. However, South Africa is much ahead of the rest of the continent and has allowed same-sex marriages since 2006.  

So while in large parts of the US and Western Europe, the LGBT community is being accepted and their civil rights protected, there is the lurking fear in America that many of these hard-fou­ght rights could get rescinded. The nervousness stems from the Supreme Court decision to overturn the Roe v. Wade judgment, which had established the constitutional right to abort­ion since 1973. Currently, nine justices make up the full bench of the US Supreme Cou­rt, with conservative judges in the majority sin­ce former Presi­d­ent Donald Trump utilised the opportun­ity to appoint three justices during his tenure. This has led to fears that as in the case of abort­ion, the US Supreme Court could also overturn the landm­ark 2015 ruling, allowing same-sex marriage in the Obergefell v. Hodges case.

In fact, while supporting the overturning of abort­ion rights, conservative Justice Clarence Tho­mas had added in his judgment that it was now time to relook at the constitutional right for gays and lesbians to have sex and marry one another. Acco­rding to Justice Tho­mas, the cou­rts should reconsider that decis­ion. Many Repu­­­bl­i­can lawmakers would also love to see a ban on same-sex marriage.

First on the line to advocate throwing out the 2015 judgment is Ted Cruz, a presidential hopeful for 2024—in case Trump does not run again. “Obergefell v. Hodges, like Roe v. Wade, ignored two centuries of our nation’s history. Marriage was always an issue that was left to the states,” Cruz said after the Roe v. Wade judgment, adding, “I think the decision was clearly wrong when it was decided. It was the court overreaching.” The right-wing Christian lobby, which makes up a significant part of the Republican Party’s core supp­ort base, will clearly advocate dismissing same-­sex marriage, as the Bible only recognises the union of man and woman.   

A recent survey by the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures, done for Pol­i­tiFact, showed that if the Supreme Court deci­des to throw out Obergefell v. Hodges, at least 25 states would ban same-sex unions, including Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee.  

There is no move yet to overturn the 2015 jud­­gment, but nothing can be ruled out, as con­se­r­v­at­ive Republican supporters smell blo­od sin­ce their “victory” in the Roe v. Wade case on abort­ion rig­hts. If that happens, it will be a hea­vy blow to the LGBT community across the world.

As a global superpower, the US often sets the agenda for the rest of the world to follow. If same-sex marriage laws are scrapped by the Ame­rican Supreme Court, it will give governm­ents that are being pushed to recognise LGBT rights in different parts of the world, an opport­unity to stall the granting of legal protection to the community. 

(This appeared in the print edition as "A Fragile Progress")

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