18 Positive Queer News Stories of 2018 Part I

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1) India Decriminalized Homosexuality

On September 6, 2018, the world’s largest democracy decriminalized homosexual acts in a unanimous vote from the Supreme Court of India. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was a remnant of colonization that was introduced in 1864 during the British rule of India.

“377. Unnatural offences: Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Explanation: Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offence described in this section”

This law was not out of use either. In 2015, 1,491 people were arrested under Section 377. 

“Criminalising carnal intercourse under section 377 Indian Penal Code is irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary,” said the Chief Justice Dipak Misra after the repeal.

Within the written ruling were the words of influential artists, including “The love that dare not speak its name,” (Lord Alfred Douglas), “From the ashes of the gay/ democracy is coming,” (Leonard Cohen), “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” (William Shakespeare), and “I am what I am, so take me as I am,” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe).

Many of us can probably relate to Ritu Dalmia, one of the five LGBT campaigners who petitioned the courts to change this law when she said: “I was turning into a cynical human being with very little belief in the system, but honestly this has really shown once again that we are a functional democracy where freedom of choice, speech, and rights still exist.”

It can feel overwhelming or inescapable watching attitudes backslide, and living through all of the 365 days of the year it is hard to remove yourself from the ever-present failures to see the ever-present successes. Still, when you look for them, they are there.

A colonial law that was instituted one hundred and fifty years ago was finally removed in 2018,

2) Guyana Legalizes Cross-Dressing

A colonial law instituted one hundred and twenty-five years ago was also removed in 2018. The 1893 Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act of the offence of being a “man” appearing in “female attire” in public for an “improper purpose”, which was a leftover of British Victorian-era colonial rule, was removed this year. 

This judgement was brought forward because of four transgender women who were arrested under this law and then went on to appeal to the highest court in Guyana. 

Though Guyana is the only country in South America still upholding the colonial era laws criminalizing sex between two men or two women, this year was full of victories. The aforementioned law was repealed, and Guyana held its first Pride parade.

This particular victory comes after an eight-year battle which ended with the Caribbean Court of Justice deciding that the law was too vague and striking it down as unconstitutional. 

In the ruling, Justice Adrian Saunders explained “Difference is as natural as breathing. No one should have his or her dignity trampled on, or human rights denied, merely on account of a difference, especially one that poses no threat to public safety or public order.”

The ruling also noted the inappropriate behaviour of the judge who initially tried the case. After charging the women, he lectured them and pushed them to attend church. The ruling noted that “Judicial officers may not use the bench to proselytize, whether before, during or after the conclusion of court proceedings.”

Justice Saunders went on to say that “Law and society are dynamic, not static. A Constitution must be read as a whole. Courts should be astute to avoid hindrances that would deter them from interpreting the Constitution in a manner faithful to its essence and its underlying spirit. If one part of the Constitution appears to run up against an individual fundamental right, then, in interpreting the Constitution as a whole, courts should place a premium on affording the citizen his/her enjoyment of the fundamental right, unless there is some overriding public interest.”

Other judges pointed out the law’s vagueness, as there is no concrete way to tell what is and is not an “improper purpose,” and the way it attempted to criminalize the state of a person’s mind. 

Following this legal win, Gulliver McEwan, one of the women who brought the case forward, said “the whole trans community in Guyana is very happy today… It was very important for us to be heard and get justice.”

Though there is still so much work to be done for the queer community in Guyana, change is happening, and that’s a point of pride.

3) Haunting of Hill House is Released 

Media was a place of countless queer victories this year; Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer came out, a transgender superhero is now on Supergirl, Hayley Kiyoko’s Expectations was released, and One Day at a Time was renewed for another season. 

These are only a few examples, and 2018 was certainly an amazing year for queer art, which means choosing just one is not an easy task. In the end, this is a history project, and although queer art is always making history, the Haunting of Hill House is a perfect choice.

This series is a loose adaptation of a Shirley Jackson novel by the same name and it isn’t the first of its kind. There have already been two films and a stage play that set out to tell this story, and most versions have included elements of queerness. Though I haven’t seen every version, after watching the Netflix adaptation, my wife and I decided to check out the 1963 film.

As someone who finds queer coding and films created under the Hays Code interesting, it was a fascinating film to watch. With all of the subtle moments, vague discussions, and visual cues there was a lot to analyze. More than anything though, after watching and comparing the film and the television series, the massive change in the treatment of the character Theodora was nothing less than healing. 

With the restrictions of the time period in mind, I have no intention to criticize the original film and no desire to compare the series outside of the treatment of Theodora. 

In the 1963 film, Theodora is an aggressive woman whose sexuality is often considered a further threatening element to the already horrific house. As such, she was more often than not antagonistic to the people around her. Though they never explicitly discuss her being a lesbian, the issue is skirted around uncomfortably throughout the film. In the television series, she is a complex character who still has a lot of the personality of the original film adaptation, including her blunt and insightful nature. But instead of using her sexuality to make the environment more uncomfortable or make her seem threatening, this adaption allows it is to be part of her character.

We see her being affectionate with women without any predatory under(or over)tones, we see her come out to her family, and we get to watch her learn and grow both within and outside of her sexuality. 

In both versions, she has psychic powers. In the television series, it is initiated by touch which she goes on to avoid for the majority of her life. We get the chance to watch a touch-starved and isolated queer woman find not only romantic love but the love and support of her family as well. As a person who loved both versions of this character, there was something incredible about seeing her given so much love and care by the show, seeing her removed from the restrictions placed on the first film and given so much space to fulfill the potential of her character. 

4) The Rainbow of Flowers Becomes Unbreakable

We have written before about the Rainbow of Flowers, but for those of you who need a refresher, we will quickly go over the history of this art installation.

In 2012, an art installation by Julita Wojik was put up in the capital city of Warsaw in Poland at Plac Zbawiciela. It was moved from its original place in front of the European Parliament by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute. It was meant to convey peace, hope, and love. Paweł Potoroczyn explained the acquisition of the rainbow saying:  

"We thought that instead of sending this gem to a junkyard, we could give it a proper home and let it stand in Warsaw. Warsaw needs art in public spaces, things that will make people and passersby smile against their will."

Unfortunately, because it was a rainbow, the art was quickly identified by the far right as a queer symbol, and soon became the target of attacks. 

Politicians like Bartosz Kownacki called the installation a "gay rainbow," making it clear in his statements that he was not using gay as a positive adjective. Stanisław Pięta said that "The hideous rainbow had hurt the feelings of believers," as the art installation was near a church. Priest Tadeusz Rydzyk described it as a "symbol of deviancy." Another politician, after seeing the vandalism of the rainbow, celebrated by dropping some homophobic slurs.

The sculpture was subjected to six counts of arson, the most famous of which was during Polish Independence Day. It was started by members of a far-right march, who damaged other property during their riots as well.

There were those who were vocal against these attacks including Polish singer Edyta Górniak, the Swedish ambassador to Poland, and Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, who announced that the installation "[would] be rebuilt as many times as necessary." Activists held gatherings, including kiss-ins, in support of the installation. Despite the support, the installation was taken down overnight on August 26, 2015. 

On June 2018, just before Poland’s Pride celebrations, a new structure was put up, this time by queer activists. A rainbow, to replace the one that had been burned down, was installed at the site of where the rainbow of flowers had been set on fire the final time. This time around, the rainbow is made of water. 

5) Transgender Modelling Agency in India

As well as having a major legal victory in India, there have also been more personal ones. Rudrani Chettri Chauhan, a transgender model and activist, found herself so tired of the treatment she and her trans peers received and the stigma existing around trans people in India, that she started an all-transgender modelling agency. The focus of the project is to show cisgender people of India the depth of transgender people’s existence. 

Traditionally, Hindu texts proclaim transgender women to be sacred, capable of bringing both good and bad luck. Considered to be holy, hijras, a term which can apply to intersex and transgender people, can cast curses or bring fertility to other people and couples. Hijra is recognized as a third gender, though many modern transgender people in India don’t identify with the term. 

Still, prejudice exists. Even after 2014, when Indian courts passed a vote making hijras a legally recognized and protected third gender, the violence and harsh treatment transgender people deal with on a daily basis can be overwhelming. Existing somewhere between sacred and scorn, their lives aren’t always easy, and Rudrani Chettri wishes to change this. 

But Chettri’s activism didn't start with this plan. She also runs the Mitr Trust, an LGBT charity working out of Delhi, and the modelling agency Bold is just another branch they have created. The focus is on providing transgender women with the tools and knowledge they need to survive in the modelling and acting business, while also offering the women a job with a stable income. The results will be more representation for trans people in movies, magazines, and so on, showing how they are not defined by any one stereotype. 

So far three models have been chosen and photographed by Bold, and hopefully, many more will follow.

6) Chile Protects Transgender Rights

In November, a new law passed in Chile allows transgender people ages 14 and older to easily change their legal names and gender markers. Activists have been battling for this for over five years and were victorious when the lowest level of Congress voted 95-46 in favour. The celebrations were massive, though bittersweet. Transgender people between 14 and 18 need parental or guardian approval for the legal change to be allowed, and children under 14 were removed from the law as a part of a compromise.

Previously, the process of changing names and gender markers have been strenuous and exhausting, taking years of humiliation. The application required opinions from psychologists and psychiatrists and often demanded naked photographs of the applicant. Thankfully, the process will be easier and kinder to transgender people, and Chilean activists vow to keep fighting for the law to include children below the age of 14. 

Juan Enrique Pi Arriagada, the executive president of the Chilean non-profit Fundación Iguales, spoke about the passing of the law and what lies ahead, saying:
“The rights that were excluded from transgender people in Chile are being acknowledged at last. After years of fighting to ensure their legal recognition, we celebrate this historic triumph that will change the lives of many of those who, for far too long, lacked protections and lived in the shadows. While we celebrate this historic landmark, we must keep working to continue the fight towards full equality.”

7) Midnight Marriages in Australia

Every year the list of countries allowing same-sex marriage gains more countries and jurisdictions. With each one added, there is celebration and joy. People gather, families and loved ones meet, and more than a few proposals are given, some for couples who have spent their lives together. Finally given the freedom to do so, people rush to their nearest practitioner, sign documents, and have their relationship recognized under the law. Couples finally gain the ability to stay with their loved ones in the hospital, have their relationship recognized when a partner dies, and adopt children together, if they so desire.

It was last year that Australia was added to the growing number, and this year when it became official. However, Australia is among the countries that require a one-month waiting period before a marriage can become official, so it was a month after the verdict that people were finally able to get married. One minute after the stroke of midnight of January 9, dozens of couples married.

Roz Kitschke, married just after dawn, explained doing it right away saying: “New day; new era — and we don’ like the heat that much.”

Diana Ribeiro also described her own reasoning for getting married to Deanne Ribeiro saying: “For me, Deanne’s always been my wife, always been the love of my life and today’s not going to change that, it’s just about equality really, and being able to finally be legal in Australia.”

8) Romania Boycotts Vote to Ban Same-Sex Marriage

As policies, politicians, and politics ebb and flow, the ebb can feel much deeper than the flow. Decisions that are made without the support of the majority of the population, or directly against the wishes of the people the government is supposed to represent, are more common than they should be. 

But early this October, when Romania posed the question to its people, they responded. Romania proposed a law that would ban even the possibility of same-sex marriage. In a turn of events that had far-right groups seething, only 20% of the population turned up to vote, not even a large enough group for the vote to go through.

"We have shown that we cannot be fooled by a political agenda that urges us to hate and polarize society," a queer activist group said after the results came out. 

The victory is not a permanent one, and religious groups already are discussing putting forward another referendum. Mihai Gheorghiu said, "Next time, we'll succeed. Let's be happy for this day. The Christian vote exists."

Other group blamed the devastating turnout on discrimination against Christians; no group has yet provided evidence to support this claim.

While a number of campaigns pushed voters to turn up, many citizens believed it was a test to divide and push the country further right. The boycott grew and, in the end, succeeded.

9) Scotland Adds Queer History to Curriculum

In particularly relevant news, Scotland has become the first country to add queer history and issues into the curriculum of the public schools. This will come into effect on May 9, 2020, giving all children the chance to learn about the vast and interesting history of the queer community.

After years of queer organizations working to institute this new curriculum, Jordan Daly described the victory saying: "The implementation of LGBTI inclusive education across all state schools is a world first, and in a time of global uncertainty, this sends a strong and clear message to LGBTI young people that they are valued here in Scotland."

He also pointed out how this could affect non-queer students saying: “Education is one of the most vital tools we have to tackle bullying, prejudice and discrimination, and it shapes the fabric of our society,"

There will be no exceptions from this policy, and it will be instituted within every public school in Scotland, teaching the next generation not only tolerance but the rich history of our community. With a significant portion of the Scottish government being queer themselves, as shown in 2016 when Kezia Dugdale described the country as having “the gayest parliament in the world”, it is made clear that having queer people in a position of power can create real and impactful change in the fabric of any nation, something we will learn about more in our next item.