While it's true that the LGBTQ+ community still faces injustice, discrimination, and inequality both in the U.S. and around the world — 2021 was filled with moments of hope and progress, too.
Countries like Angola, Switzerland, and Chile passed marriage equality laws. In the U.S., health care protections were restored for gay and transgender individuals, and there was better representation in positions of power. And there were people helping with intersectional issues like homelessness and refugees within the LGBTQ+ community.
We still have a long way to go to achieve true equality, equity, and justice in the LGBTQ+ community — and we made progress toward that goal in 2021.
The nation of Angola officially decriminalized same-sex relationships
Good news for the LGBTQ+ community in Africa and around the world! Angola, on the west coast of Central Africa, is the latest country to update its laws to decriminalize same-sex relationships and prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.
According to Human Rights Watch, in January 2019, Angola's parliament voted to update its outdated law to "no longer criminalize consensual same-sex conduct." The president signed it into law in November 2020, and it went into effect in February 2021.
In addition to decriminalizing same-sex relationships, the government also added a provision against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
There are still too many countries around the world, including African countries like Tanzania and Nigeria that criminalize same-sex relationships, and we're celebrating with the nation of Angola for making their country a safer, more equal, just, and inclusive place for their LGBTQ+ citizens.
A Tennessee organization is working to solve homelessness among transgender women by building tiny homes
Over 40% of Black transgender women reported having experienced homelessness in their lifetimes, compared to one-third of the overall transgender population in the U.S., according to a 2017 report by the National Center for Trans Equality.
Memphis, Tennessee-based grassroots organization My Sistah’s House is working to solve homelessness among the transgender community by building tiny homes.
The group helps transgender people find doctors, social groups, and safe spaces. They also provide emergency shelter, access to sexual health services, social services, survival kits, and hot meals to people experiencing homelessness.
Their tiny home project broke ground in January and includes plans for building 20 homes.
"Transitional housing is a Band-Aid, emergency housing is a bandaid, but homeownership is a permanent solution," Kayla Gore, a public health counselor and founder of My Sistah’s House, told USA Today. Gore has been homeless herself in the past and has turned her own home into a shelter that has housed over 60 transgender women in the last three years.
Transphobic violence makes safe housing especially vital for transgender women. At least 44 transgender people were killed in 2020, according to a report by Human Rights Campaign, and more than 75% of the victims were trans women of color.
Housing insecurity plays a substantial role in making transgender people a target of violence, so securing home ownership is sure to change and even save lives.
A record number of LGBTQ+ athletes competed in the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo
According to Outsports, at least 163 openly LGBTQ athletes were set to compete in the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games — more than double the number at the 2016 Rio Games (56). It's also more than all the previous Summer Olympics combined.
“Being able to compete with the best in the world as my most authentic self at the biggest international multi-sport games shows how far we’ve come on inclusion in sport. I’m hoping that by competing at these Games I can show the LGBTQ community that we do belong and we can achieve anything we put our minds to," Canadian swimmer Markus Thormeyer told Outsports.
In Tokyo, at least 27 different countries are represented by at least one publicly out athlete — in 30 events. New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard is the first transgender athlete to compete in the Games.
This is such good news for representation — and we're celebrating this news with the athletes, their fellow competitors, and the Olympics!
A court ruled that Japan’s failure to recognize same-sex marriage is unconstitutional
The Japanese court ruled in the first of five similar cases that the government's failure to recognize same-sex marriages is unconstitutional.
“I was in tears hearing [the judge] clearly say it was unconstitutional,” one of the anonymous plaintiffs told local news outlet Hokkaido Cultural Broadcasting.
Another plaintiff said she hoped this would be “the first step for Japan to change.”
Taiwan is the only country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriages, which it did in 2019. The ruling doesn't change any laws around same-sex marriage in Japan, but it's really good news, and could mean lawmakers will soon act to make changes that align with both the ruling, and public opinion.
“This ruling is a big step forward,” Kanae Doi, Japan director at Human Rights Watch told The Washington Post. “While the Supreme Court would eventually decide whether the Diet [parliament] needs to act or not, which will be several years away, today’s ruling will affect the already supportive Japanese public opinion on marriage equality, which would make it harder for the Supreme Court to neglect.”
Same-sex couples in Japan face discrimination in many areas of life, and while some cities issue certificates to help overcome these obstacles, these basic rights need to be secured at a national level.
Especially as public support of it continues to grow. A 2018 survey in Japan found more than 78% of people between ages 20 and 59 approve of same-sex marriage. And 147 businesses and organizations in Japan signed up to a campaign to legalize same-sex marriage.
We're hopeful this court ruling could mean Japan is the next country to begin the process of legalizing same-sex marriage.
Dr. Rachel Levine became the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the Senate
Dr. Rachel Levine made history this week as she became the first openly transgender person to be confirmed to a federal office by the Senate. In her role as assistant secretary of health for the Health and Human Services Department, she also will be the highest-ranking transgender openly transgender official in U.S. history.
Levine had been serving as Pennsylvania's secretary of health, the highest-ranking health official in the state. Before that, she served as the state's physician general, and is a trained pediatrician with degrees from Harvard and Tulane University.
During her confirmation hearing last month, Levine promised to fight for improved health care access for all.
During her confirmation hearings, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee chair, Senator Patty Murray, highlighted Levine's experience, specifically her work with Pennsylvania's COVID-19 response.
"Dr. Levine has been on the front lines of this pandemic, which is why she knows firsthand what our states and communities need from the Department of Health and Human Services," Murray said.
Murray also noted the historic nature of the confirmation, "I've always said the people in our government should reflect the people it serves, and today we will take a new historic step toward making that a reality."
And as the said in a tweet, we're celebrating the vital "vision and visibility" that Levine will bring to her role. Trans people belong, and they especially belong where important, health-related decisions are being made.
Since 2006, Canada-based Rainbow Railroad has helped more than 800 persecuted LGBTQ+ people from 38 countries travel to safety.
It's still illegal to be LGBTQ+ in 70 countries. In these countries, LGBTQ+ people have zero basic human rights protections, face violence and discrimination from their families, communities, and even the government, and being outed means you could lose employment or housing. And in 11 countries, queer people face the death penalty.
Rainbow Railroad works to solve a multi-layered problem that goes beyond LGBTQ+ persecution — they’re also responding to a global refugee crisis. Refugees already face mounting challenges, but anti-LGTBQ+ legislation only adds to the obstacles. The organization is addressing both challenges together.
Notably, the organization has been praised for helping 70 Chechen men resettle in response to anti-gay purges in Chechnya beginning in 2017. And since 2006, Rainbow Railroad has helped more than 800 persecuted LGBTQ+ people from 38 countries travel to safety.
The U.S. restored health care protection for gay and transgender people
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that gay and transgender people would once again be protected from discrimination in health care.
Under the Trump administration, federal laws banning discrimination on the basis of sex defined "sex" as the gender assigned at birth, which excluded transgender people from protections.
“Fear of discrimination can lead individuals to forgo care, which can have serious negative health consequences,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra in announcing the change. “Everyone — including LGBTQ people — should be able to access health care, free from discrimination or interference, period.”
And the American Medical Association said in a statement that they “did the right thing” by ending “a dismal chapter which a federal agency sought to remove civil rights protections.”
Becerra also said that restoring the health care protections for gay and transgender people aligns the department with a Supreme Court case in 2020 that determined that laws against to sex discrimination in the workplace and employment also protect gay and transgender people.
This is incredibly good news for ensuring all people, including LGBTQ+ people receive the same protections from discrimination — in employment, housing, and health care.
Israel lifted 'denigrating' restrictions on blood donations by gay men
Israel just announced it would be lifting restrictions on blood donations by gay men, saying the saying the limitation was discriminatory and denigrating.
Israel's health minister Nitzan Horowitz, who is openly gay, announced on Twitter and Facebook that the Health Ministry had “removed the degrading and irrelevant questions” in blood donor questionnaires, that everyone would be treated equally regardless of sexual orientation, and that it was "a remnant of a stereotype that belongs to history.”
“There’s no difference between one blood and the other,” he said in the post.
Instead of asking if the prospective donor has had "same-sex relations," the new questionnaire now asks if a prospective donor has had “high risk sexual relations with a new partner or partners” in the past three months — using gender neutral wording.
LGBTQ rights groups in Israel celebrated the important step for equality in Israel. Gal Wagner Kolasko, head of the Israeli LGBT Medical Associations, thanked Horowitz for the “historical correction" on Twitter.
A new study found that suicide rates fell by 46% after gay marriage was legalized in Sweden and Denmark
Suicide rates among those in same-sex relationships have fallen significantly in both Denmark and Sweden since the legalization of gay marriage, according to a joint study by the Danish Research Institute for Suicide Prevention and Stockholm University.
For the study, researchers compared suicide rates for people in same-sex and heterosexual relationships in the periods 1989–2002 and 2003–2016.
The researchers found that between the two periods, the number of suicides among people in same-sex unions fell by a staggering 46%, compared to a decline of about 28% in the number of suicides by people in heterosexual relationships.
“Although suicide rates in the general populations of Denmark and Sweden have been decreasing in recent decades, the rate for those living in same-sex marriage declined at a steeper pace, which has not been noted previously,” the study, which followed 28,000 people in same-sex partnerships for an average of 11 years, concludes.
Annette Erlangsen, the lead author, told the Reuters Foundation that, along with other gay rights legislation, same-sex marriage may have reduced feelings of social stigmatization among some LGBTQ+ people.
“Being married is protective against suicide,” she told Reuters. “Legalizing same-sex marriage and other supportive legislative measures — they might actually reduce stigma around sexual minorities.”
Denmark and Sweden were both early adopters of same-sex marriage. In 1989, Denmark became the first country in the world to allow same-sex civil unions. Sweden followed suit in 1995. Gay marriage was legalized in Sweden in 2009 and Denmark in 2012, with both nations seen as global leaders for LGBTQ+ rights.
Making NFL history, Carl Nassib announced he’s gay and made a $100,000 donation to The Trevor Project for LGBTQ+ youth suicide prevention
Las Vegas Raiders defensive lineman Carl Nassib became the first active NFL player to announce he's gay. Nassib made the announcement on Instagram, saying "representation and visibility are so important."
Nassib added that he was hopeful for a day when "videos like this and the whole coming out process" wouldn't even be necessary, but until then he planned to do his part to "cultivate a culture that's accepting, that's compassionate."
To that end, Nassib also announced a donation of $100,000 to The Trevor Project to support their work in providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services for LGBTQ+ youth. (We're *huge* fans of all the good they bring into the world, too!)
In the Instagram post, Nassib wrote, "Studies have shown all it takes is one accepting adult to decrease the risk of an LGBTQ kid attempting suicide by 40%. Whether you're a friend, a parent, a coach, or a teammate — you can be that person."
We're thrilled that Nassib felt comfortable to make this public announcement, and are celebrating both this history-making moment for the NFL (and sports in general), and all the good his donation will go on to do for LGBTQ+ youth in need of support through The Trevor Project!
A new Alabama law will remove all anti-LGBTQ language from the state’s education curriculum
Effective July 1, a new law in Alabama will remove all anti-LGBTQ language from the state's education curriculum.
The law removes the requirement for teachers to tell students that homosexuality is “not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public” and that “homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state.” Officially, the latter statement had been illegal under federal law since 2003 — after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lawrence vs. Texas — but now it makes it official under Alabama state law, too.
The law also requires teachers to notify parents when the school plans to teach students sexual education and human reproduction, and provide copies of the educational materials, if requested by parents.
“Ending state-mandated homophobia in sex ed is a hard-won fight by advocates who’ve been working toward this for years,” Courtney Roark, Alabama policy and movement building director for URGE, said in a statement. “We are proud that young queer and trans folks, in particular, made their voices heard in ending this harmful requirement. This win is just one step in the direction of the sex ed we’d like to see in Alabama, which is sex ed that is comprehensive and LGBTQ+ affirming.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) also commended Ivey for signing the measure into law, saying it “ends the accepted culture of discrimination endured by Alabama’s youth solely because of their sexual orientation.”
“With these changes, we’re encouraged that all youth, regardless of their sexual orientation, will receive an education that empowers them to make healthy, informed decisions about their relationships and their bodies,” the SPLC added.
British veterans who were dismissed for being LGBTQ+ can now reclaim their medals
In February of this year, the British government admitted that their pre-2000 policy to only allow heterosexual people to serve in the military was a “historic wrong,” CNN reported.
Only heterosexual people were allowed to serve in the British Armed Forces until the turn of the century, and service members whose sexuality was discovered often had their honors removed before they were discharged.
Now gay and bisexual British veterans who were stripped of their medals because of their sexuality will be able to reclaim them.
The change comes after a legal campaign by Falklands War veteran Joe Ousalice, who was forced from the Royal Navy after 18 years of service in 1993 for being bisexual. He told the BBC that when his superiors discovered his sexuality, "they cut [the medal] off [his] chest with a big pair of scissors."
"It was a very great injustice that this was denied to some members simply because of their sexuality,” U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted. “I hugely welcome the fact we can now address this historic wrong."
Activists have also urged the government to address claims for compensation, lost pension rights, the mental health of veterans, and other issues facing people who fell victim to the pre-2000 legislation.
Read more LGBTQ+ good news at http://goodnews.gay.