Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Matador Network.
2016 has been a difficult year. With widespread fear and global terrorism seemingly on the rise, it’s easy to see why tourism has taken a knock in countries all over the world. Tragically, with many governments appearing to become more conservative, being a gay person — whether a tourist or a local — has never been more complex.
Yes, there is daily discrimination and horrific violence under the banner of homophobia, but 2016 has also seen some incredible advances for the LGBTQ community. The Western media gives us one little bias cross-section, and as we saw with the UK’s Brexit decision and Donald Trump’s election in the United States, our liberal social bubbles appear to be getting smaller and smaller by the day.
With that in mind, it’s tempting to feel as though we are all marching back into the stone-age in regards to gay rights but, looking at the entire globe, is this so?
First, the ugly
2016 saw the UK slip down to third place on human rights group ILGA Europe’s list of countries with a positive attitude towards equal rights for LGBTQ people. Behind progressive Malta and liberal Belgium in 1st and 2nd place respectively, the UK has lost its top spot which could arguably be due to a widely unstable year in British politics following Brexit. The denizens of the UK have had to ‘make do’ with a default Prime Minister in Theresa May who literally got into power because nobody else wanted the job. Her history with gay rights is patchy at best and, on more than one occasion, was frankly on the wrong side of history. In 1999, May voted against equality for the age of consent and in 2000 voted against the repeal of Section 28, an amendment that stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.” In 2002, she voted against same-sex adoption. The list goes on. So, yeah, it’s a dodgy time for the UK knowing that the Prime Minister is yet another rich white straight person.
But it’s not just at-home politics that affect the way we see gay rights evolving globally. Tourism is taking a hit everywhere due to radical extremism and general intolerance. By looking at the challenges faced by ordinary LGBTQ members of a given society, we form our own complex opinions of what it means to be gay in our own homes. Having travelled to over 50 countries myself, I am ever more aware of the specific obstacles faced by the gay community and nowhere is it more of a pressing issue than in uber-conservative religious nations. This isn’t about picking on religion, by the way, it’s merely the instigating reason that gay rights is attacked.
Marrakesh — famous for its souks, hospitality, food, and culture — has long been a draw for western tourists. A short visit to Morocco may not uncover any anti-gay vibes, but there is a staunchly conservative regime that has a fairly ugly history when it comes to its gay citizens. Only in March of 2016, was a gay male couple dragged from their home, beaten and slashed, then put in prison for their “crimes.” It wasn’t until a massive global campaign and mounting pressure from Western influence that they were finally released.
All over the African continent in 2016, all kinds of homophobia was reported. The Ugandan government threatened to persecute anybody who tried to attend a gay pride parade in July. In Ethiopia, gay life is heavily frowned upon and anyone brave enough to be openly homosexual faces daily discrimination in their workplace and private lives. Tragically, stories of gay oppression and even state-sponsored murder are common in some parts of the world. But, 2016 has also seen some advances occur that would never have seemed possible a few short years ago.
Now, the good
Traditionally conservative Taiwan is set to become the first Asian country to legalise same-sex marriage, a fantastic step forward paving the way for even more Asian nations to do the same. In Mozambique, 2016 saw the legalisation of same-sex activity. Yes, gay couples there still have no legal recognition or family rights, but it is at least a start.
And really, the point is that in a year that has seen bigots rise to power in global superpowers and gay teens thrown from rooftops in Syria, there are these tiny glimmers of hope that the tide is turning. By no means am I implying that the fight is over, but what we have to do is keep holding onto these victories and not get demoralised by the state of affairs still faced every day by LGBTQ people.
By being verbal on social media and by encouraging gay folk to travel to parts of the world where they aren’t always welcome, we can stand up for certain values and lead the way. We can also remind ourselves that when we’re feeling complacent in our own home nation, or berating Pride organisers for being ‘too commercial’ or ‘too expensive’ that we need to stay grateful that some of us live in a place where we can walk down the street holding hands, or share a hotel room, or get married in front of our loved ones.
There’s a long way to go for global LGBTQ equality, but at least we can acknowledge that 2016 was not all doom and gloom for the gay rights movement.