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6 big LGBQT rights gains in 2016

As news breaks that actor Debbie Reynolds has died, just a day after her daughter Carrie Fisher, it is a bleak reminder that finding positive spins on 2016 is always going to be a bit of a challenge. The year has presented us with the loss of numerous famous heroes, alongside national crises such as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.

It’s been rough, but not exclusively so. 2016 has also been the year in which deaths from malaria have hit a new, record low and world hunger is at its lowest in 25 years (thanks, Positive News), and progress continues to be made on a number of social issues. As more people wake up to the vast inequalities faced by oppressed groups, certain things are slowly beginning to improve.

For LGBT people, some things have actually worked in 2016. The new laws and rights that have been passed overwhelmingly relate to the ‘LGB’ section of the acronym, as rights for trans people are still sadly lacking around the world. However, there have been a few steps forward for the whole rainbow, while others demonstrate that the ‘T’ has further to travel to gain truly equal rights.

This is the good stuff:

1. Four countries decriminalised homosexuality

Ok, so decriminalising homosexuality is the absolute basics, as rights go, but for people in the Seychelles, Belize, Benin and Nauru, this is an absolutely essential and life-changing law that will save lives.

2. Same-sex marriage was legalised

Same-sex marriage is not, in my humble opinion, the be-all and end-all of LGBT rights. It is absolutely required, in an equal society, for everybody to be able to marry the adult of their choice, but prioritising equal marriage over more important rights such as fair asylum claims for gay refugees is an incredibly privileged thing to do.

However, putting my grumpy singleton status to one side, it is still notable that we are now allowed to get hitched in a number of places where, just a year ago, it was illegal. Some of those places include Greenland, various states in Mexico, the Isle of Man, Colombia, Bolivia and the British Antarctic Territory.

3. LGBT discrimination became illegal

In many countries around the world, there is no legal case against discriminating against somebody on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity. However, a handful of states and countries made LGBT discrimination illegal in 2016, including Belize (in terms of employment discrimination), Nepal, Suriname, and certain states in Mexico.

4. Conversion therapy was banned

Conversion therapy is an unethical, dangerous and highly discredited process in which ‘therapists’ try to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity from LGBT to heterosexual or cisgender. Often promoted by homophobic, biphobic and transphobic religious organisations, those who endorse conversion therapy can exacerbate dysphoria and homophobic or transphobic self-hatred, which is reinforced by bigoted families and societies.

Pressurising its victims to conform to heteronormative and cisnormative standards, conversion therapy (often known as ‘reparative therapy’ amongst its proponents) can range between everything from encouraging thought blocking techniques to aversive techniques such as applying electric shocks or inducing vomiting while showing the victim photographs of people of the same sex, although these are more rare than they used to be.

So, all credit to Wyoming, Georgia, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Michigan, New Hampshire in the US, as well as Malta, Germany, Indonesia, Puerto Rico, Uruguay and Ecuador, each of which introduced full or partial bans on conversion therapy.

5. Northern Ireland lifted its ban on gay men giving blood

Even though heterosexual couples often have anal sex, and gay male couples don’t necessarily have anal sex, there has long been a ban on blood donation from sexually active gay men, regardless of the kind of sex they indulge in, because of a presumed increased risk of HIV. This was an overreaching and discriminatory ban that prevented a lot of potential blood donors from helping their fellow citizens.

Northern Ireland (hopefully the first place of many) has, in 2016, lifted its blanket ban.

6. There was a selection of political ‘firsts’ in the UK

There are more LGBT Members of Parliament in the UK than any other parliament in the world (totalling 40 who are ‘out’), and Manchester has its first openly gay Lord Mayor, Carl Austin-Behan. Justine Greening and David Mundell came out, revealing themselves to be the first members of the UK Cabinet who came out while in office.

Meanwhile Anwen Muston, a British Labour Councillor, was the first openly transgender woman to be elected as a Labour representative and Kezia Dugdale became the first ‘out’ Scottish Labour MSP. Prince William, too, made a royal first, appearing on the cover of a gay men’s magazine, Attitude.

Photo: Andy Walker/Creative Commons

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Philippa Willitts

Philippa Willitts is a British freelance writer who specialises in writing about disability, women's issues, social media and tech. She also enjoys covering politics and LGBT-related topics. She has written for the Guardian, the Independent, New Statesman, Channel 4 News, Access Magazine, xoJane and many more publications. She can be found on Twitter @PhilippaWrites.