Two steps forward, one step back

The recent news about the USA changing the abortion law hit me like a stroke. Change like that is unthinkable in our modern countries in 2022. The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protection for abortion that had been in place for nearly fifty years. It overturned Roe v. Wade court case and made it possible again for individual states to ban abortion.

At the same time, the Netherlands made it easier to get an abortion, abolishing the “cooling-off period” of five days. The abortion right is important for all of us; directly for the part of our LGBTQ+ community who needs that right, and for the rest of us, to be free to make decisions about our bodies. We should never be taking our hard-won right for granted. Here are stories from around the world about where we took steps forward, and where we made a step back.

Conversion therapy

I’m not quite sure if this is good news or if it’s just a reminder of how bad the situation still is. Numerous countries recently banned conversion therapy around the world. In May 2022, Greece was the last to do so, just two months after New Zealand. Last year, Canada voted for a federal ban, and at the end of 2021, France also passed the law to ban “any treatment aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity using psychotherapy, medication, electroshock therapy, aversive treatments and exorcism” (as derived from the definition of the European parliament briefing in June 2022). Earlier last year, Chile and India also created the same laws. As a reminder, the first country in the world to ban this torture was Brazil in 1999. Furthermore, the “therapy” is banned in Samoa, Taiwan, Fiji, Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador, Malta, Germany and some regions of Spain, Australia and the United States.

It sounds like a lot, but it’s not. Out of 27 countries in the European Union, only 4 (!) of them banned conversion therapy. The European Parliament urged countries to change their laws, but it can’t force them. The World Health Organization declassified homosexuality as a pathology or disease in 1990, so why do we need, 32 years later, “therapy” for being gay? The “therapy” leads to suicidal thoughts and causes permanent physical harm, suicide attempts, depression, anxiety, shame, and self-hatred. In the end, conversion therapy leaves an already vulnerable person in a worse state than he/she/they were in before.

Blood donations

Thanks to advanced and more reliable testing, we are taking the fast lane on the way to equality when talking about blood donations. For a long time, gay men have been considered a high-risk group for blood-borne diseases. However, donors shouldn’t be judged based on their sexual orientation but on their behaviour, especially when every sample gets tested regardless. Previous rules were discriminatory because many queer folks have stable relationships and/or one sexual partner.

The COVID-19 pandemic also accelerated the transition to better policies. Many hospitals had critically low blood stocks in the past two years, forcing blood banks and countries to rethink their rules. France changed its law in March 2022, and Greece in January 2022, allowing gay men to donate blood. Since 2021, The Netherlands accepts donations from people who are in a monogamous same-sex relationship without deferral. The UK has a new rule: “Anyone who has had anal sex with a new partner or multiple partners in the last three months, regardless of their gender or their partner’s gender, must wait 3-month before donating.” Germany has a similar rule as of September 2021, but with a 4-month deferral. Canada is changing its law in September 2022: “After having a 3-month deferral for gay people to donate blood was deemed unfair, it is now completely legal for gays to donate blood with no deferral as long as they tested negative for HIV (which everyone has to do before donating blood, regardless of sexuality).” The American Red Cross is vouching for the same system based on behaviour, not sexuality, but the laws are still not in place.

Small victories

Same-sex adoption became legal in Chile as of December 2021. Same-sex partners now have the same rights as other married partners. After six years of the legal battle against the government ministry and the final ruling of the High Administrative Court, Croatian same-sex partners can now also adopt. Adoption has been possible by the law for years, but that couldn’t happen in practice. Same-sex partners have been refused adoption for different “reasons” during the adoption process. Same-sex couple Mladen Kožić and Ivo Šegota from the country’s capital city, Zagreb, finally won the court case. Soon they will be able to start the adoption process for the two kids who have already lived with them for years as foster children. Montenegro defined same-sex marriage as a civil union and it is a step forward in its path to the European Union. Since 2012, Montenegro has had the status of a potential candidate. Partners in a civil union have all the legal rights as married partners, but it is not a “marriage”. Not the best solution, but still better than nothing. Croatia and Hungary have this same marriage alternative for same-sex partners. Argentina passed the new Presidental Decree making X possible in the gender category for non-binary folks. As of July 2021, anyone who doesn’t identify as male or female can change their national ID. In some parts of Brazil this is possible too. São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro legally recognize the non-binary identity on documents.

Concerning changes

While Chile made it legal for same-sex partners to adopt, Panama made it illegal. Bill No.120, which aims to protect children, allows single parents and married couples to adopt. But this law also defines married couples as opposite-sex partners only. Last year, homosexual activity became illegal in Uganda under The Sexual Offences Bill 2019, with up to life in prison as punishment.

The Amsterdam Rainbow Dress

There are 195 countries in the world, and in 71 being LGBTQ+ is punishable by law, as can be seen on a list by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA); those countries represent 36% of the world. To make this human rights problem visible, the Amsterdam Rainbow Dress Foundation created a dress with the flags of these countries. It has a diameter of 16 meters featuring the Amsterdam city flag in the middle. The dress travels around the world with LGBTQ+ members who wear it. Their mission is to continue the fight for equality:

“Diversity and inclusiveness have always been of the greatest importance, but with recent developments (such as “concentration camps” for gay men in Chechnya, public torture in Indonesia, illegal anti-gay propaganda legislation in Russia, LGBT free zones in Poland, the reinstatement of homosexuality as a punishable offence in Chad and so on, as reported by the international press), a negative development is visible on the geopolitical and social levels. There is, by far, not enough attention for homophobia, lesbophobia, biphobia and transphobia, and for those who suffer as a direct result.”

Everything mentioned above is just a reminder that, next to the colourful and happy parade, Pride is a protest. We’ve come a long way, but we’re far from equal. There are still some colours of the rainbow in the shadow when we all should be shining in the sun.

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