Where do we stand? The overlook of LGBTIQ+ rights across the globe


Feminist and LGBTIQ+ issues are almost as diverse as the communities themselves, yet both movements are discriminated against, marginalized, often attacked, and violated, simply because of their non-conformity to conventional and hegemonic notions of gender. Bringing back the focus on social justice brings feminist and queer struggles together. For the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation, consistent questioning of patriarchal power is a central issue, and from there we continue our joint fight.

Eine Fahne mit der Aufschrift "Born this way" wird in die Höhe gehalten.
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Liberation lies in the realisation that the core attribute of human rights is related to only one simple virtue: being human.

Over the recent decades, the human rights of LGBTIQ+ people have advanced and progressed in some parts of the world, and mostly in form of legal egalitarianism. At the same time, these rights have been taken away or threatened by strongly united far-right politics in various parts of the world.

A simple look at the numbers helps to understand the multi-layered dimensions of the oppression of LGBTIQ+ people. Over 30 countries and territories in the world have enacted national laws allowing LGBTIQ+ people to marry in the last decades. On the other hand, the expansion of LGBTIQ+ rights around the globe has not been even, depending on the intensity and rapid development of anti-LGBTIQ+ movements and anti-gender movements. In December 2020, ILGA - World published a world map on the legal situation in relation to sexual orientation, which shows that same-sex sexual acts are still prosecuted in about one-third of all UN states.

Homosexuality is punishable by death in seven states. In countries like Iran, Cameroon, and Uganda (and many others), LGBTIQ+ people are being arrested or detained (or facing even worse consequences) based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. No matter the country and its so-called “development status”, extreme human rights violations and breaches into LGBTIQ+ people’s lives are still happening in almost every corner of the world. Be it the "LGBTIQ+ free zones" in Poland, the election of openly anti-LGBTIQ+ politicians (like Donald Trump), or the rise of right-wing parties with conservative family images (like the AfD in Germany). These examples prove that even Western democracies are not gender democracies and are not immune to homophobic and misogynist policies.

Human rights advocates and organisations have a feeling of progression, yet there is still no place for celebration. It is clear that human rights activists, organisations, and individuals have a difficult task upon them - to prevent further degradation of (fundamental) human rights, but also to keep advocating for protection of LGBTIQ+ people and anti-discriminatory laws implementation.

Why are LGBTIQ+ rights human rights?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as a milestone document in history, already protects the rights of LGBTIQ+ people and therefore, we are not talking about new or exclusive rights for a particular group of individuals. Human rights and democracy are continuously under threat of structural inequalities, all over the world. Politics should be as diverse as society is. Different practices of oppression of non-heteronormative people have multiple negative effects, which deepens not only inequality but also animosity between people, living in the same place.

Standing up for LGBTIQ+ people, defending them from violence and structural discrimination does not include creating new sets of human rights, laws or standards – we already have them! Yet systematic oppression, structural discrimination, exclusion, stigmatization and violence against LGBTIQ+ people are in some societies considered a common thing - since these discriminatory practices are often deeply rooted in so-called traditional values and culture, and are smartly wrapped into national laws.

Liberation lies in the realisation that the core attribute of human rights is related to only one simple virtue: being human. They are not constrained by any distinguishing characteristics among us - such as race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, disability, social status, or any other attribute.

Why is LGBTIQ+ activism part of feminism?

Even though feminist and LGBTIQ+ issues are almost as diverse as the communities themselves, both movements share the desire for a world of non-oppression and equal participation. People who are engaged in feminist movements and are part of LGBTIQ+ communities, are discriminated against, marginalized, and often attacked and violated, simply because of their non-conformity to conventional and hegemonic notions of gender. Bringing back the focus on social justice, brings feminist and queer struggles together. Different forms of (in)justice, be it reproductive, economic, health care access, etc., affect mostly women and LGBTIQ+ (queer) people. Both groups include people who are most vulnerable and exposed to patriarchal and structural violence. This is evident in many places and in different contexts.

As OluTimehin Kukoyi, a Nigerian writer, essayist, and public intellectual said in one of her interviews: “You don’t add your Blackness to your queerness, or to your womanhood. They all reconstitute your experience into a completely different type of oppression.”

This is where we introduce the concept of intersectionality, the term first coined in 1989 by American civil rights advocate and leading scholar of critical race theory, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. What does it mean? What does it constitute? The concept of intersectionality has emerged as a significant method for understanding the complex levels of discrimination and exclusion in a society whose members with complex racial, gender, or sexual identities can experience oppression in multiple ways – all in order to understand the complexity of prejudices and stigmatization feminists and queer people face. This is a point where all struggles become one.

Guided by the principle of intersectionality, the hbs approaches stand for unity, rather than fragmentation under the umbrella of identity politics. The joint umbrella should be a democracy and social justice for all, and feminism that excludes any of the oppressed ones is not doing any good to feminists and women around the world. After all, queer people were the ones who strongly supported feminist movements and revolutions back in the 60s in many countries worldwide. The concept of intersectionality questions: who else belongs to our oppressed group and how we can express solidarity more. This way we can see from where power comes and where it collides, interlocks, and intersects.

Lens for the future

Our work has a clear vision: a participatory, inclusive, and just world, beyond heteronormative and patriarchal exclusion, released from any destructive power structures. Within the political, global, and social movements, there are diverse answers and approaches to which feminism and LGBTIQ+ activism do belong together. A consistent questioning of patriarchal power is a central issue, and both - feminist and LGBTIQ+ movements fight against those power structures.

Bringing people from different regions of the world together to have their say, thus enhancing transnational and trans-regional exchange and cooperation, is elementary to creating global solidarity. It is particularly important to us that the voices of LGBTIQ+ activists and scholars in the Global South and North-South are heard.

A central focus here is the perspective of the Global South. In particular, people affected by racism and LGBTIQ+ hostility need visibility and reliable partners. Therefore, the hbs specifically support people, projects, and perspectives of intersex and transgender people of colour from the Global South.

This dossier shares contributions to the improvement of human rights of LGBTIQ+ people. The perspectives come from different parts of the world, enabling you to see and compare all sides of the struggles for fundamental human rights of LGBTIQ+ people. We encourage you to continue to question the imposed narratives and adopt an intersectional approach in your way of life.