Trans Rights Around the World

Much of the focus of the LGBT community seems to be on the G. Maybe that’s just how it seems to me because of the circles I move in, and that I’m a gay man, so I, like anyone, am naturally more likely to notice what is most immediately relevant to me first. As such, much of the news I monitor around the LGBT community relates to marriage equality and anti-discrimination laws that affect homosexuals and bisexuals.

The struggles trans people face on a day to day basis, while perhaps in some ways similar to what cis-gendered non-heterosexuals experience, are nonetheless unique. So, let’s take a look at trans rights around the world.

Many of the same countries which have marriage equality also grant trans people the right to fully and legally change their name and gender based on their new gender identity, though laws vary on whether or not they must have undergone sex reassignment surgery and the decision may be made on a case-by-case basis by a judge.

Argentina may in fact be one of the most progressive countries in the world regarding this issue, as the law there allows people over 18 years old to change their gender based on their own written declaration, making it the first country to introduce a policy that didn’t depend on surgery or any outside ruling, but solely on the individual’s own self-identity.

The situation in the United States on the other hand is much more complex, as each state makes its own laws on the matter. In five states (Idaho, Kansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Ohio) it is not possible to alter ones sex on a birth certificate, even after surgery, and more than half the states in the union do not even have laws in place to protect trans people from discrimination in the workplace, for example.

Shockingly, there are also still countries in Europe which require trans people to undergo sterilisation before they can apply to legally change their gender. Sweden, while it was the very first country in the world to grant its citizens this right in 1972, still required sterilisation until as recently as 2013. Norway, Denmark, Belgium, France, Italy and Greece for example, still require sterilisation.

While it may be easy to assume that the rights of trans people is progressing at much the same pace as those same rights for cis-gendered non-heterosexuals, the reality is that this is not the case.

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Would You Travel to Russia as an LGBT Person?

It’s now just over a year since an amendment to a law banning “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships” was enacted in Russia, and though much of the furore surrounding the law may have died down somewhat on the internet and in the media, the way it affects the every day lives of the Russian LGBT community certainly hasn’t.

Foreginers visiting Russia are by no means exempt from adhering to the law, and indeed are subject to extra punishments.

In Russia, the fine for individuals for breaking this law is between 4,000 and 5,000 rubles (US$110-US$138 or €82-€103), though non-Russians may also be imprisoned for up to 15 days and subsequently deported from Russia.

But how exactly does one break this law? What is constitutes “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships”?

The wording of the law is that it is anything which may cause

minors to form non-traditional sexual predispositions, notions of attractiveness of non-traditional sexual relationships, distorted ideas about the equal social value of traditional and non-traditional sexual relationships, or imposing information about non-traditional sexual relationships which raises interest in such relationships insofar as these acts do not amount to a criminal offence. [Source]

To my understanding, simply stating that you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans does not infringe on this law. What would, however, is holding up a sign declaring that homosexuality is normal.


However, the deeper issue is not whether or not being an LGBT person and being out about it is legal or not in Russia, but rather that the introduction of this law may indeed have contributed to a rise in violence towards LGBT people. The reason for this may be that the government approving the law has been perceived by extremist groups that it is now acceptable, or even somewhat lawful, to perpetrate hate crimes against LGBT people.

So the question becomes whether you would feel safe travelling to Russia as an LGBT person. I travelled there in 2009 and did not have any problems, but I would not go now. Though I’ve travelled to countries where male homosexuality is technically illegal, such as Syria, I’ve never felt threatened just for being who I am on my travels.

In Russia, as it stands now though, I wouldn’t take my chances.

What about you? Would you feel safe travelling to Russia if you identify as LGBT?

The Future of Gay Marriage in China


While bobbing along the Yangtze River, my partner and I attended a lecture on China’s future. As expected, the talk centered on the One-Child Policy. Since 1979, couples in the ethnic majority have been restricted to one child, except under very specific circumstances.

While it is illegal to learn the baby’s gender before birth, there is a thriving underground ultrasound industry. Baby girls are often aborted, resulting in a skewed male to female ratio. In some provinces there are 130 boys to every 100 girls. Millions of men will be unable to find a wife and, in a nation as family-centered as China, this is a huge issue.

An Unexpected Solution

The lecturer slipped a new slide onto the projector. Right there, in all its bullet-pointed glory, was the phrase ‘gay marriage.’ My partner and I gawped at each other as the speaker expounded on this unexpected solution.

Estimates of the number of gay, Chinese men who are married to straight women vary. Professor Zhang Bei-chuan, who specializes in the study of AIDS and HIV, puts the figure at 16 million. Our lecturer claimed it was 40-50 million.

The lecturer went on to suggest that legalizing gay marriage in China would fix multiple problems. It would end loveless marriages, making both parties happier. Gay men could then form unions based on true connections. The newly divorced women would be free to select a new husband from the abundance of single straight men available. With one change to the law, three people could find… satisfaction.

Attitudes Towards Gay Marriage

China decriminalized homosexuality in 1997. In 2001, the Chinese Psychiatric Association stopped viewing it as a form of mental illness. In recent years, Professor L. Yinhe, whose specialty is sexuality, has repeatedly asked the government to address gay marriage. Each year, her requests are refused.

However, attitudes among the public are shifting and China’s gay community is growing more vocal. In February 2013, a lesbian couple in Beijing applied to be married. They were denied, but the attempt attracted media attention.

That same month, members of PFLAG China crafted an open letter to National People’s Congress delegates in favor of marriage equality. The letter suggests that existing laws encourage gay citizens to marry people of the opposite sex, an outcome with little emotional benefit to anyone.

Gay Marriage

According to Professor Li, adult gay children ‘are facing extreme pressure from their families to get married to someone from the opposite sex.’ Some deal with this by entering into cooperative marriages, where gay men marry lesbians. There are even websites and forums set up to facilitate such unions.

Not the ideal type of gay marriage!

While in China, I was struck by the government’s extremely pragmatic approach to decision-making. With a population of over 1.3 billion, such an attitude is a necessity. Deng Xiaoping, the controversial reformer who essentially governed China from 1978-1992, once said: ‘whether a cat is black or white makes no difference. As long as it catches mice, it is a good cat.’

It boils down to this: if you find an effective solution, it is a good one. China is unlikely to beat the U.S. to the gay marriage altar. But the impact of a generation of single, disenchanted straight men may be enough to propel change.

Of course, there is one glaring flaw in the ‘gay marriage will result in more available women plan.’



About the author

Juliet is the founder of Southwest Compass — a travel blog “Pointing Southwest Travelers in the Right Direction”. Follow her on Twitter @sw_compass or stay up-to-date with travel in the Southwest USA by following on Facebook. Learn more about her on her website’s author bio: About Southwest Compass

About homosexuality in Turkey

Mike sent in this article about homosexuality in Turkey today and I found it an interesting and enlightening read. Here’s a brief excerpt, but be sure to click through to read the full story on Mike’s website Mantalya—An Englishman’s experience & life in Turkey.

Even though some see Turkey as a strong Islamic country, albeit a secular one, homosexuality in Turkey is actually not a crime. There is an age of consent of 18 between two consenting adults as it is with two heterosexual people. However, what does linger in the Turkish penal code is the vaguely worded “offences against public morality” which has often in the past been bought into practice to curtail and harass anyone showing homosexual tendencies or behaviour.

Notwithstanding that, for most Turkish families having an openly gay or lesbian child would be seen as a disconcerted stain on the family. In July 2011, in a report by the World Values Survey, revealed that when Turkish citizens were asked “what type of people they would not like seeing in their neighborhood” a whopping 84% answered “homosexual people”. The list continued with people with aids, unmarried couples and atheist! It shouldn’t come as a shock though and I for one do not blame the Turkish people for their reply. Whereas, most of the free thinking world are educated on sexuality, even going so far as to teach it’s youth in schools that homosexuality is far from something to be ashamed, in Turkey that level of social and sexual education is zero and is likely to remain zero for a very long time to come.

Learn more about homosexuality in Turkey here. Mike also provided information about the Istanbul gay pride (a whopping 20,000 attendees last year!). Also, Mike recommends the 2012 film about gays in Turkey, Zenne Dancer.


The New Gay Marriage Law and UK Attitudes to LGBT People

This February in the UK’s House of Commons, an historic vote was held. Members of Parliament were asked whether or not they would support a law recognising the rights of same-sex couples to marry. The event received much coverage both before and after the ballots were cast, with strong opinions on both sides. The truth is that the UK population is still split on the subject of gay marriage.

gay marriage UK

Civil Union

There has been a slow and steady march towards equal treatment since the 2004 introduction of Civil Partnerships, which gave same-sex couples all the rights granted by marriage whilst not being, technically, a marriage. For a while, this was the perfect solution – gay people would not suffer the legal troubles that they had done previously, whilst social conservatives were happy that the ‘one man, one woman’ definition of marriage had been maintained.

In under a decade, the mainstream view had advanced enough to ask: why shouldn’t gay couples be allowed a real marriage? A change to the law became a campaign promise for the centre-left – the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party, which together draw a majority of the public vote. But that doesn’t mean that there is universal support, with conservative voters and religious organisations, such as the Church of England (CoE) and the Roman Catholic Church, remaining opposed.

Religious Freedom and the Established Church

The new law, though obviously a huge victory for the LGBT community and equal rights campaigners, is not without exception. It will state that clergy members have no obligation to perform same-sex ceremonies and, in particular, that the Church of England’s policy against gay marriage is specifically excluded. This means that whilst other churches and their clergy may choose to marry gay couples, the CoE and its ministers are banned from conducting such ceremonies. Church leaders don’t like it because they believe it’s open to legal challenge and that their special exemptions may melt away. People such as myself don’t like it for reasons which I will now discuss. The question of same-sex marriage, then, is not yet closed.

Most people support religious freedom – the right to believe what you want to believe, and not have the opinions of others forced upon you. I would say that most people, myself included, understand why clergy should not be forced to marry same-sex couples when it is possible to get married in another, more tolerant church or a non-religious building. The issue is that in the UK, we don’t have separation of church and state. The CoE is ‘established’, meaning that it has certain rights. For example, its bishops are allowed to sit and vote in the upper chamber of our Parliament, the House of Lords. This creates a crucial difference between it and other religious bodies.

Mutual Exclusivity

The CoE does not want to conduct gay weddings. Its reasoning for this is that it is a religious organisation, with an entitlement to views which are independent of the state’s. But how can it separate itself from the state on the issue of equal marriage whilst firmly integrating itself in every other area? You are either part of the state, and so obligated to uphold equality, or you are not part of it. The fight is far from over for those who demand true equality for LGBT couples in the UK.

thomas jones Thomas Jones is a freelance blogger writing on behalf of a gay blog.