2015 – A year of progress for the LGBT community, or a year of setbacks? What can we expect for 2016? These are the questions on many people’s minds at the beginning of this new, uncertain year. Despite the fact that significant progress was made in 2015, such as the legalisation of gay marriage in the US, the growing significance of trans cases in the mainstream media like that of Caitlyn Jenner, or more recently the popularisation of the film “The Danish Girl” that draws attention to trans issues throughout history, 2015 was also a year that displayed a worrying and violent backlash against LGBT progress.
The rising profile of ISIS, or Daesh, in the Middle East has caused LGBT people and advocate persecution to reach startling levels, whilst the Western world made immense progress in terms of advancing LGBT rights. This contrasts starkly with the setbacks in the Middle East. Only 2 weeks ago, a high-profile case emerged, featuring a 15 year old boy who was arrested by ISIS militants on charges of homosexuality thrown from a roof in Deir ez-Zor, Syria. The United Nations estimates that, to date, ISIS has publicly executed at least 30 people for being gay. Of course, when taking into account private executions, the figure may be much greater.
Indeed, the most worrying aspect of these cases is their extremely public nature. The execution of the 15 year old boy “took place in front of a large crowd”of onlookers. ISIS’s infiltration of the various strands of the media and solid online presence means that videos are often uploaded for all to see, helping to fuel ISIS support and extremism in perhaps their most covert but also most important domain: the Internet.
The UN Security Council held its first discussion on the ISIS attacks on homosexuals in the Middle East last month, emphasising its growing prominence and expressing concerns that ISIS is helping spread homophobia and transphobia not only within Syria and Iraq, but also online. According to the executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Jessica Stern, homophobic violence is inspiring other militias and “private actors” to attack gay people too.
Elsewhere, in the Dominican Republic, a nation in which the Catholic Church retains significant historical political power, there was numerous reports of homophobic and transphobic acts in 2015. 33 transgender women were killed between 2006 and 2015 in possible hate related murders, as well as reports of a gay couple arrested arbitrarily by police.
To summarize, it’s all very well to speak of the legalisation of gay marriage in areas of Europe and the US (indeed this is a commendable achievement), but our focus must now shift to a much more life threatening issue in other parts of the world, particularly those influenced by religious extremism. For not only do many LGBT people in these areas not have the right to marry, but many of these people don’t have the right to life either, which is enough said about how changes need to be made now, not later.
Nina Webb, Staff Writer