This year marks fifty years since the Stonewall riots, sparking the modern fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States and around the world.
Since then, an astonishing amount of progress has been made to achieve equality for LGBTQ+ people. Within the span of a generation, we have seen the decriminalisation of homosexuality, recognition of civil unions, the right to marry whomever we want, and progress to protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination.
Of course, there is still a long way to go to fully achieve equality for everyone who is part of the community around the world. However, in some Western nations, we are instead seeing the prospect of the rights that LGBTQ+ people fought and died for being reversed for the first time in living memory.
Under President Trump and his appointments to the Supreme Court, the rights previously afforded to LGBTQ+ people, most notably same-sex marriage and protections from discrimination cannot be guaranteed. With several such cases potentially heading to the court in the coming years and with justices serving for life, Trump and the Republican Party may have condemned LGBTQ+ people to more conservative treatment for many decades to come. Even last month, the highest court in the United States ruled that transgender people can be prohibited from serving in the military, marking a huge step back and legitimising discrimination against a group that already faces great discrimination.
And it’s not just the United States where the rights of LGBTQ+ people are being rolled back. Last month, Japan upheld a law forcing transgender people to be sterilised before changing gender. In Egypt, a reporter was jailed for one year for interviewing a gay man on national television. In Brazil, LGBTQ+ people fear for their future and their lives, with an increase in homophobic abuse after the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president, notorious for his homophobia; reaching such a point that Brazil’s only gay congressman has fled the country (which Bolsonaro responded to with a thumbs up emoji on Twitter). Bermuda, a British overseas territory, became the first region to repeal same-sex marriage. Taiwan saw, for the first time, people vote against allowing same-sex couples to marry in a referendum. And that is not mentioning the continuing abductions, torture and persecution of gay people in Chechnya, with reports of LGBTQ+ being held in concentration camps.
Even in Britain there has been an increase in homophobic hate crime, with more than two-thirds of same-sex couples saying they feared holding hands in public. LGBTQ+ people in Northern Ireland are still unable to get married, almost five years after their fellow citizens in Great Britain became able to do so. Roughly one in ten British LGBTQ+ people still experience homophobia in their place of work and there have been reports that tolerance of homosexuality in Britain may have reached its peak.
If this is worrying, it should be. But instead of cowering in fear at the prospect of a huge reversal in rights that have been hard fought for over decades, it is the time for a new wave to combat those who wish to push LGBTQ+ people back into the closet. As a community, we need to not only hold the line against bigots and homophobes but push it even further to achieve the equality and treatment that all people deserve.
The fight is very much not over, so this LGBTQ+ History Month we should remember those who came before to get us to this point and not let their battles and, in some cases, sacrifices be for nothing.